Filly in Derby picture

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 May, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 May, 1998, 12:00am

It is a tale that Disney could not have dreamed up - a filly winning Flat racing's most coveted prize, the Epsom Derby. But in the past week that is a concept many believe is not quite as impossible as it seems.

The Godolphin-owned-and-trained Cape Verdi, a brilliant winner of the 1,000 Guineas, has come in for 'unprecedented' support for the Derby on June 6, shortening from 5-1 to be as low as 9-4 'with a run'. But will she be given her chance to become the fourth filly this century - and the first since Fifinella in 1916 - to win the world's most famous Classic? Simon Crisford, the racing manager for Godolphin, said the Dubai stable had not ruled out that possibility, although no decision is to be taken on the filly's participation until shortly before May 30, the deadline for supplementary entries for the Derby.

Understandably, Cape Verdi is already 7-4 favourite for the Oaks (June 5) with Corals, who cut her price for the fillies' Classic from 9-4, so strong is the interest since her thoroughly convincing five-length victory on the Rowley Mile last Sunday. Crisford was also interested to learn that according to statistics, 14 fillies have contested the Derby since 1900, three of them winning - Signorinetta (1908), Tagalie (1912) and Fifinella (1916).

The most recent filly to run in the race was Portugese Lil, a 500-1 chance in 1996. She gave Alex Greaves the distinction of becoming the first woman to ride in a Derby, but really had no place contesting the Classic.

You have to go back 21 years to find the next. In 1975, Nelson Bunker Hunt's filly Nobiliary made the most significant modern-day attempt for Derby honours when finishing an honourable second to the all-conquering Grundy, who went on to take the Irish Derby and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes in subsequent runs.

The Derby challenges of all other females this century ended in failure, with all being unplaced, although the great Sceptre, sent off an even-money favourite in 1902, finished fourth, spoiling her chance of a clean sweep of the Classics that year.

One very interesting factor in the current Cape Verdi speculation is that the Maktoum family - Godolphin in particular - have a history of supplementing fillies for Classics, where and when they consider it appropriate.

Sheik Hamdan's Salsabil was supplemented for the Irish Derby in 1990 and subsequently became the first filly in 90 years to win that major race, while Balanchine, owned in partnership by Sheik Maktoum and Godolphin, was also a late entry before winning the same Classic in 1994.

This is the first year supplementary entries have been permitted - for a cost of GBP75,000 - for the Derby.

Crisford said: 'To be honest, we haven't even discussed the idea of Cape Verdi running in the Derby rather than the Oaks. There are a lot of [Derby] trials still to come and obviously it would be prudent to wait for the outcome of those.

'But a big 'plus' - if Cape Verdi were to run in the Derby - is that the Oaks and the Derby are only a day apart, so a revision of plans would not upset her training schedule. I can tell you she is in fantastic condition and very well indeed. She is definitely the real thing,' he added.

Mike Dillon, of Ladbrokes, described the interest in Cape Verdi for the Derby as 'amazing and unprecedented'. Dillon added: 'We have had to shorten her price from 5-1 to 3-1 'with a run'.' The Tote offer only 9-4 (from 4-1), while Corals go 11-4 (from 9-2), both firms adding the 'with a run' proviso. Such interest generated in a filly of such obvious quality for the Derby has added another dimension to discussions on the Classic.

The interest in Cape Verdi underlines the open nature of the Derby and this was further emphasised when three leading bookies came up with different favourites in their ante-post lists after Gulland, a 1-2 favourite, scraped home by a short-head from The Glow-Worm in the Chester Vase.