Abdullah has an enviable problem
From JIM McGRATH in London
THE strength of owner Khalid Abdullah's Classic hand this year was never better illustrated than when Armiger took the Dalham Chester Vase, one of the traditional Derby trials - and then eased two full points to 10-1 for Epsom.
The reason behind this the move was little or nothing to do with the fact that Armiger was forced to work a little harder than expected on his seasonal debut to win. He defeated the moderately-performed Irish colt Shrewd Idea by 21/2 lengths.
No, the betting changes revolve more around the rather complex, overall plans for the entire Abdullah squad of three-year-olds this summer.
Normally, anyone would be happy to have Armiger as their Derby runner; but Abdullah has an embarrassment of riches this year, and finds himself choosing between three outstanding Classic types - and that doesn't include the brillaint Zafonic, who looks set to be restricted to one-mile events.
Conveniently, all three colts are trained at Newmarket by Henry Cecil, and of the trio, Tenby, the recent winner of the Newmarket Stakes, looks the pick for Epsom. As well as Armiger, there is the strongly-built Commander In Chief, winner of his only two outings.
Being a neat, compact, seemingly agile colt, Tenby should be ideal to handle the tricky contours of Epsom on June 2. Consequently, he has shortened up to be the 2-1 Derby favourite, with Commander In Chief 7-1 second favourite, then 10-1 Armiger.
It was largely the card-marking comments from Cecil following the Chester Vase that had the biggest influence on the betting.
''Armiger has pleased me by winning the Vase but Pat (Eddery) said he was changing his legs all the time and hating the fast ground. He will be a lot better off when there is some cut in the ground,'' Cecil pointed out.
''Also, I don't think going left-handed is what he really likes. I think he would be much better suited going right-handed,'' he said. Then, in typical Cecil-style, he added: ''But having said that, if there was a lot of rain before Epsom, and the going was soft, I believe he would have no trouble in acting on the course there.'' These comments were interpreted by all and sundry as an indication that Armiger would probably go to Chantilly (right-handed, and better chance of ease in the ground) for the Prix du Jockey-Club on June 6.
This would leave Tenby to tackle the Derby at Epsom, with possibly Commander In Chief as the second string - and then on to the Curragh for the Irish Derby at the end of the month. I repeat: this owner has serious embarrassment of riches.
Cecil announced that Tenby would go on show again next week in the Dante Stakes at York, with Commander In Chief tackling the Glasgow Stakes at the same meeting.
Armiger, meanwhile, could go to Goodwood for the Predominate Stakes on May 18. Following those trials, the plans should be taking shape.
The best performance all week at Chester was turned in by Benefical, a half-brother to the very capable middle-distance colt Jeune. Alas, despite his impressive victory in the Dee Stakes, it all meant very little as far as the Derby was concerned - he hasnot been entered.
Apparently, his owner, the late Sir Robin McAlpine, did not fancy much paying hefty entry and acceptance fees for his horses and instructed Geoff Wragg, the trainer, not to put the colt in. Nine times out of ten, he would be right, of course, but this could prove the exception.
Also, he sliced 0.62 seconds off Sir Harry Lewis' track record for a mile and quarter (plus 75 yards), underlining the merit of the performance.