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World of Breeding: Alamshar looks the one to unlock Key Of Luck's potential.

Byline: Tony Morris

WINNING may be the name of the game, but that does not mean that losers must necessarily forfeit attention. Alamshar, desperately unlucky to forfeit his unbeaten record in Sunday's Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown, claimed plenty of attention from bookmakers, who promptly reduced him to single-figure odds for the Derby. This column offers no apologies for focusing on a moral, rather than an actual, winner for a change.

It is possible Balestrini may earn recognition for real achievement one day, and if that proves to be the case, it will be duly acknowledged here. But let's concentrate on the colt who should now be unbeaten in three efforts, with two Group 3 victories to his name, and who already has two Group 1 winners among his victims.

Alamshar began with a victory in a minor event run on fast ground at Listowel in September, and followed up a few weeks later in the Beresford Stakes, equally comfortable on the soft Curragh terrain, beating subsequent Racing Post Trophy hero Brian Boru by a head. On both occasions he came from off the pace and settled the issue with his superior turn of foot.

It is history now that the confidence in his ability to quicken was somewhat overdone at the weekend; Balestrini was allowed far too much rope by the riders of both Alamshar and Alberto Giacometti. But when Murtagh and Kinane realised their predicament and set about trying to retrieve the situation, only one obtained the appropriate response. While the Criterium de Saint-Cloud winner laboured, Alamshar fairly flew, and was gaining on Balestrini all the way to the line.

Connections of the Aga Khan's colt could be philosophical about this defeat. After all, Sinndar had lost his unbeaten record in the Ballysax, and he was never beaten again, adding a couple of Derbys and an Arc de Triomphe on his charge through the 2000 campaign. The last three Derby winners took the Ballysax route to Epsom; if the sequence was to be extended, Alamshar was going to be the one to do it.

With his unbeaten

French-trained colt Dalakhani also among the favourites, the Aga Khan is poised to make a strong challenge for a victory that would make him the first owner-breeder of five Derby winners; the record that Sinndar enabled him to equal was set by John Bowes with West Australian, the first Triple Crown hero, exactly 150 years ago.

The Triple Crown was never on the cards for Alamshar, whose runs last season indicated that he would need more than a mile as a three-year-old. We know now that he gets ten furlongs well, and there can be little doubt that a mile and a half will suit.

Gone are the days when we thought it irrational to consider the Derby prospects of a colt whose sire had failed to win over 12 furlongs. The last six winners have not fitted into that category, so we need not be too concerned that Alamshar's sire, Key Of Luck, never won beyond a mile and a quarter.

Should there be cause for alarm that Key Of Luck appears not to have had any kind of winner at 12 furlongs? It might be if he had been around for a long while, but as Alamshar comes from only his second crop, let's not worry about that either.

Even so, it has to be said that Key Of Luck is a little unconventional as sire of a leading Derby contender. Precocious enough at two to win the Group 3 Prix d'Arenberg over five furlongs, he raced until he was six without scoring in another Pattern race though that is not to say that he never showed form of Pattern calibre again.

Missing entirely as a three-year-old through injury, he came back unspectacularly at four, winning only an amateur riders' event over a mile at Compiegne. But he took on a new lease of life at Nad Al Sheba at five, notching a sequence of three victories in runaway style. And in the third of them, the Dubai Duty Free, he gave a devastating performance, winning by 20 lengths in faster time than it took Cigar to win his World Cup later that day.

Sadly, he did not win again. He had one start in the States, where he ran a close second (drug-free) in the Grade 1 Pimlico Special, before a fractured

cannon-bone put him hors de combat once more. His honest fourth in Singspiel's 1997 Dubai World Cup was highly creditable, after all his troubles.

How would Irish breeders react to a new horse who had never raced in these islands and whose best form had been as a five-year-old on a sand track thousands of miles away? Initially they did not find him very exciting, even though his younger three-parts brother, Anabaa, had become Europe's champion sprinter, and he received only 48 mares in his first season.

Of course, the new-sire addicts on the buying bench gave him a lift, with his first auction foals averaging 15,000gns and his first yearlings 13,000gns. Predictably, demand then fell away and his averages have been in four figures ever since.

THE next boost had to come from the racecourse, and fortunately it arrived. First-crop runners High Society, Arkaga and Wrong Key all showed Listed or Pattern form at two; High Society and Wrong Key delivered again at three, and Alamshar provided the big breakthrough in the second crop. Key Of Luck had his first three-figure book in 2002, and had a steep rise in fee, from Irpounds 3,500 to EUR12,500, this spring.

The process of constant experimentation that characterises the Aga Khan's breeding policy is well illustrated by Alamshar's dam, Alaiyda, who has visited eight different stallions in her first eight stud seasons. The sires represent a variety of pedigree backgrounds and racing aptitudes, none of them boasting a particularly high profile.

That might suggest that Alaiyda was never considered to be one of the stud's most prized broodmares, but she was the product of home-bred parents who both finished first in Epsom Classics - Shahrastani in the Derby, and Aliysa in the Oaks.

Aliysa, deprived of her prize after a long-running saga that had far-reaching consequences, died young, having produced only one daughter.

It would no doubt give the Aga special pleasure to win his fifth Derby with her grandson.

CAPTION(S):

Alamshar (left) makes relentless progress but fails to overhaul Balestrini in the Ballysax Stakes
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Apr 17, 2003
Words:1080
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