13 May 2007

Just three weeks to the Derby and everyone is still scrabbling around for clues. Last week’s hero, Cockney Rebel, is avoiding Epsom, the favourite Authorized reappears at York on Thursday, and Macarthur, who many claim to be the Aidan O’Brien pick, runs against his recent conqueror Mores Wells in today’s Derrinstown Trial. So where does that leave Aqaleem, the 12-1 winner of the Lingfield Derby Trial yesterday?

In with a good shot of a place is probably the right answer for this dark-bay son of the 2000 Derby and Arc hero Sinndar. Aqaleem is lean enough to need a red breastgirth as insurance against a saddle slipping, but that may well be damning with faint praise for Aqaleem, who overcame the tactical hazards of a slowly-run race to win by four lengths from Hearthstead Maison, with the joint-favourites Kid Mambo and Mythical Kid only third and fifth respectively.

“I actually thought he would win,” said trainer Marcus Tregoning in that easy, understated way of his. “I have always considered him a talented individual, he finished ahead of Authorized on his second race last year, and I could not see that this was that great opposition. But there is no comparison between him and Sir Percy [last year’s Tregoning-trained Derby winner]. Sir Percy was a top two-year-old who had been readied for the 2,000 Guineas. This is a much, much more inexperienced animal.”

That was evident when Aqaleem was caught flat-footed when Many Volumes and Mythical Kid dramatically upped the gallop down the hill. “It was difficult for him,” said jockey Richard Hills afterwards. “They were sprinting in front and he got unbalanced on the slope. But once I was able to straighten him on to an even keel he answered really well.”

Tregoning’s stable returned to action only on Friday after a lengthy shutdown due to a coughing outbreak and Aqaleem only ran because his light frame does not need much galloping. The colt will obviously improve physically, but it is his mental sharpness which is likely to benefit most from this run. One doubts that he will have the tactical speed to top the lot at Epsom, but he is a progressive colt who is bound to win again. If there is a Classic in him it is likely to be the St Leger in September.

But who beats him? O’Brien’s two Chester winners, Soldier of Fortune and Admiralofthefleet, did not seem to set jockey Mick Kinane alight, while Macarthur will have to be a lot sharper than he was first time out behind today’s rival Mores Well at Leopardstown. If he impresses there will be a landslide of money for him, just as there will if Authorized comes good at York. But since this big colt’s best run was on very soft ground (an unlikely outcome at Epsom) and since he finished a head behind Aqaleem first time out, we return to the Lingfield winner, who had his price slashed from 66-1 to 16-1 in most books.

The weeks ahead will see plenty of talk, but it will not this summer include a major Godolphin contender. Mythical Kid had a scare with a pricked foot yesterday morning, but that was not put forward as an excuse by racing manager Simon Crisford, who also watched Folk Opera disappoint in the Oaks Trial before a double with Blue Ksar and Calabash Cove set the blue bandwagon rolling for the season.

Kayah, the fillies’ Trial winner, was even more damned with faint praise than Aqaleem. She had won her only previous race last year and battled home bravely to clinch things in the last hundred yards. But as she had never shown trainer Ralph Becket enough at home to be even entered in the Oaks, her victory was merely taken as negative enough to eliminate her rivals as Epsom contenders.

The picture among the female hopefuls should become clearer this week when Oaks favourite Passage Of Time runs at York. Many in the racing world yearn for her to return Henry Cecil to his rightful place in the Classic winner’s enclosure, but they will have to beware of the confidence in Simon Crisford’s eyes when he talked of the return of Godolphin’s Measured Tempo at Newbury on Friday. “She,” he said with the gleam which keeps everyone dreaming at this time of the year, “she could be the one.”

Is that the best of the clues?

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