Epsom’s French fancy

WITH just over a week to go until the Investec Derby, racing’s good, bad and ugly gathered on Epsom Downs yesterday morning for the racecourse’s annual ‘Breakfast with the Stars’. The event offers up the opportunity for any horse entered in the world’s most famous race to exercise on the track and sample its undulations, twists and turns before the big day.

Only two of next week’s runners opted to strut their stuff in front of the eyes and cameras of the racing press and Ed Dunlop’s Native Khan was the first to appear in the hands of Kieren Fallon, right in the middle of breakfast! He was led by a moderate handicapper, Satwa Laird, and the pair seemed to crawl round Tattenham Corner. As they entered the straight, it became clear they were going slower than a crawl and Native Khan eased past his stablemate in slow motion with the minimum of fuss.

Connections seemed delighted with him, although he’ll need to go a hell of a lot quicker tomorrow week if he is to trouble the leading contenders. William Hill seemed content to leave his price unchanged at 12/1. Ed Dunlop still seems convinced that Fallon will be on board come the day and told Clare Balding that he had received “as firm a commitment to ride as Mr Fallon ever gives.”

Aidan O’Brien may well have been granted a similar commitment as he seemed to indicate 40 minutes later, via telephone link-up from Ballydoyle, that Fallon will partner his Recital. The former champion certainly has a tricky decision to make over the next few days.

Almost as soon as Native Khan had completed his workout, if you can call it that, a helicopter appeared from out of an overcast sky and landed in the centre of the course. The five-foot something man that stepped out from the gloom was Andre Fabre, 22-times French Champion trainer and arguably one of the greatest trainers ever to step foot on Epsom’s hallowed turf. However, the one race missing from his CV is the Investec Derby – he has only a fifth place finish to show from nine attempts over the last 30 years.

That said, in Pour Moi he has a very lightly-raced, but hugely talented colt, who could well change all that. He worked alongside a stablemate, in the hands of jockey Mickael Barzalona, and visibly travelled with greater gusto than Native Khan.

He hadn’t impressed in the preliminaries, having appeared in front of the stands layered in sweat, but quickened up at the end of the gallop in eye-catching fashion. William Hill responded straight away by cutting his odds from 7/1 into 6/1 clear second favourite.

Andre Fabre declared to everyone afterwards that he was “in love” with the horse and he definitely represented his best ever chance of winning the race. Suddenly, a serious challenger to Carlton House has emerged from across the Channel. Fabre joked that he does not mind being unpopular if winning the Derby means beating the Queen’s horse. On the evidence of what we witnessed over our croissants, that’s no joke and a very real possibility.

Visit www.theroadtothederby.co.uk this week to see some fantastic videos of the key contenders in action, as well as all the information you will need for next week’s festival.