18 May 2023

Passenger out of luck on the Knavesmire – but not out of Derby picture

18 May 2023

Passenger may yet throw his hat into the Derby ring after running with immense promise in defeat in the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes at York.

It was hard to know what the Ulysses colt had achieved in beating a field of fellow newcomers in the Wood Ditton at Newmarket, but it appeared significant connections decided him to supplement him for a Derby trial Sir Michael Stoute had already won on a record seven occasions, with Desert Crown doing the double just last season.

Punters on the Knavesmire ultimately agreed, with Passenger the 9-2 favourite by the time the gates opened. But what followed was a tale of woe for his supporters.

Ridden by Richard Kingscote, the Niarchos family-owned runner appeared to be travelling all over his rivals halfway up the home straight, but he could not find a gap for love nor money.

By the time Passenger did get a run, it was all too late, but there was much to like about the way he stayed on to dead-heat for third with Aidan O’Brien’s Continuous, beaten just a couple of lengths by eventual winner The Foxes.

While brief in his assessment of the performance, Kingscote immediately blamed himself, saying: “It was my fault, I couldn’t get him a run. It’s very frustrating.”

A decision on whether Stoute and the Niarchos family will roll the dice at Epsom on June 3 is made more complicated by the fact Passenger is not entered, meaning the owners will again have to stump up a supplementary fee, with the price for adding him to the Derby set at £85,000.

Paddy Power were impressed enough by his performance to make him an 8-1 shot like The Foxes, though, and connections ultimately have a couple of weeks to mull it over.

Stoute was not on the Knavesmire, but his assistant James Savage said: “It was a bit of a hard-luck story.

“He was in the stalls a long time, he jumped well and did everything brilliantly for a horse having only his second start after running on a straight mile at Newmarket.

“There’s a lot of positives to be taken out of the race. It didn’t happen for Richard up the straight, but that’s just one of those things.”

Interestingly, the only previous horse to be beaten in the Dante and win the Derby was the Stoute-trained Workforce in 2010.

When asked whether Passenger could bid to emulate the subsequent Arc hero, Savage added: “That is going to be a decision for Sir Michael and the Niarchos family. All I can say is that we’ve learnt he’s able to compete at a very high level with the best three-year-olds.

The (Niarchos) family will follow Sir Michael's advice

“I’m not so sure experience got him beat because if the gap had come he would have gone through it.

“He’s took a massive step forward from Newmarket to here and we’ll just see how he is.”

Alan Cooper, racing manager for the owners, said: “I’m afraid he didn’t have the clearest of runs, but it was a great improvement from his first start, so let’s get home and see what Sir Michael would like to do.

“He’s shown that he’s a good horse on only his second start. Let’s regroup.

“The family will follow Sir Michael’s advice.”

Splitting The Foxes and the third-placed pair of Passenger and Continuous was John Murphy’s Irish raider White Birch.

Winner of a heavy ground Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown on his seasonal bow, the grey proved he is equally effective on quicker conditions, charging home from the rear to be beaten only a neck.

Another son of Ulysses, White Birch does hold a Derby entry and appears bound for Epsom. He is 20-1 with Coral.

George Murphy, assistant to his father, said: “He ran a super race, quickened up really well and just bumped into one on the day, but we couldn’t be happier with the run.

“I think the horse himself thought he had it won and the winner just came from out of his vision, but we’re delighted.

“He’s a super mover and a big, powerful horse – ground doesn’t seem to bother him.

“We’ll take him home and see how he comes out of it, but I think he’s more entitled to take his chance in the Derby now. If the owners are happy to go there and he comes out of it well, I think he definitely deserves a crack at it.”

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