KEVIN DARLEY could be in for a bumper pay-day if both Mister Monet and Shamardal strut their stuff at Newmarket this afternoon.

The combined first prize-money for the Group 1 Champion and Dewhurst Stakes comes to the thick-end of £368,000, of which Darley would be entitled to nearly ten per cent should he boot home the top-class duo.

Apart from regular big-race pilots such as Frankie Dettori and Kieren Fallon, this type of double golden opportunity rarely arises for jockeys like Darley, a late replacement for the luckless Joe Fanning, who has only just returned to action from injury after cracking his collar bone at Hamilton last month.

Fanning's misfortune could not have come at a worse time, but it is Darley who is set to benefit initially on Mister Monet, who takes a significant hike in grade by locking horns with some of Europe's leading ten-furlong campaigners for the Champion Stakes.

It was Fanning's expert guidance from the saddle which enabled Mister Monet to cruise to an effortless four-length success in Deauville's Group 2 Prix Guillaume on heavy ground at the end of August.

Trainer Mark Johnston immediately declared today's showpiece as Mister Monet's long-term target, although it's a testament to the stable's strength in depth that they can go double-handed into a such a high-calibre event, with Lucky Story joining Mister Monet in the line-up.

After going down by only a half-length to the mighty Rakti in Ascot's Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes three weeks ago, Lucky Story was understandably promoted to the head of the European three-year-old one-mile division.

According to the official ratings, Lucky Story should finish ahead of Mister Monet, however the former is unproven in the mud over a mile-and-a-quarter, a risk I'm not prepared to take in a race guaranteed to test the combination of speed and stamina to the absolute limit.

"Darryll (Holland) thinks he is going to win on Lucky Story, I hope he's right or at least finishes second to Mister Monet," revealed Johnston, who also reports both horses to be in good order.

Darley won't have long to wipe the mud from his goggles after the conclusion of the Champion Stakes, because 35 minutes later he steps forward to partner Shamardal in the seven-furlong Dewhurst.

Already installed as low as 10-1 for next year's 2,000 Guineas, the Middleham-based colt made all under a canny ride by Fanning to capture the Group 2 Vintage Stakes at Goodwood, a victory which left the jockey in no doubt that Shamardal was something special.

"I didn't necessarily want to go so fast early on, but nether did I want to disappoint him and he just took the lead and stayed there," said the winning jockey.

As far as actual betting turnover is concerned, the Dewhurst and Champion are sure to be eclipsed by the second half of the so-called autumn double, the marathon two-mile-and-two-furlong Cesarewitch Handicap.

Followers of ante-post betting patterns and strategies will already be aware of substantial plunges on Distant Prospect, the winner of the race three years ago, plus Mr Ed, who was favourite with most firms until the rain came on Thursday.

"Distant Prospect is in good form and will be suited by the recent rain. Despite having only won once (over hurdles) since his 2001 Cesarewitch success, the horse has continued to do well, including when fourth in the race in 2002," said his trainer, Andrew Balding.

With 36 runners scheduled to go to post, the odds are heavily stacked in the bookies' favour, but there is a compelling case to be made for siding with Distant Prospect, who will carry my each-way swag.

From a punting perspective, there's no better feeling than getting under way with a winner, an onerous task I'll leave to Sharplaw Star (1.05) in the opening Group 3 Cornwallis Stakes.

The Willie-Haggas-trained flying filly has done little wrong in three career outings to date. She landed a big gamble on her debut at Leicester in May, then finished third in the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot, and warmed up for this £30,000 encounter with a bloodless triumph at Beverley.

For the nap selection, long-time absentee Dandoun (5.10) gets the green light in the closing Group 3 Rolls Royce Stakes.

John Dunlop's representative is blessed with the sort of handsome looks normally associated with top-class future stallions.

Dandoun goes exceptionally well fresh, plus will revel in the anticipated hock-deep ground.

* Royal Millennium showed both his best and worst sides as he took yesterday's main event at Newmarket.

The 7-2 favourite was one of four to switch to the stands side of the track in the six-furlong Igloos Bentinck Stakes.

The decision paid off as Moss Vale, who led the quartet, set a good pace which left the small group ahead of the main body of the field on the far rail.

Brought through by Ted Durcan to challenge the leader inside the final furlong, Royal Millennium quickly went a neck up on his rival.

The Mick Channon-trained six-year-old appeared to apply the brakes even more quickly than usual and allowed Moss Vale to rally and force a photograph. It was only by the smallest possible margin that Royal Millennium held on to the Group Three prize.

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