The Derby(s), World Cup and Royal Ascot 2010

As sporting months go, dear reader, June spoils us. No sooner does the Epsom jamboree clippety-clop out of town, with its sundry quirks and non-quotidianness (it really is a word!), than we are greeted by a full-tilt fiesta of fantasy football and fabulously regal racing fare.

Friday sees the commencement of the World Cup in South Africa, next Tuesday sees the first of five days of royal racing in Berkshire. And I haven’t even mentioned Wimbledon and the one day series against the Aussies. Nor have I mentioned a certain beast closer to home who’ll be doing her best today, and hoping her best is good enough…

Good grief, we’re spoilt indeed! 🙂

So let’s get to it. First up today, I want to look back at the Investec Derby 2010 and tell you what I think, and why I believe there is another horse who deserves your very close scrutiny from a Derby elsewhere.

The Epsom Derby post-mortem is always packed with non-stayers, non-track-actors, and not-quite-right-in-a-subsequent-blood-test-please-don’t-squash-our-stud-values. And this year was no exception.

After the Ballydoyle camp stitched punters up not once but twice – first, with the defection of ante-post favourite St Nicholas Abbey, and then with the late absence of third choice, Cape Blanco – the market had an open feel to it.

Jan Vermeer (another from Team Ballydoyle) had done nothing wrong, but had a fair amount to do on form to justify 9/4 favouritism. Rewilding was a plunge horse and, having been tipped each way here at 12’s just a few days before the race, he was duly sent off the 9/2 second favourite. It wasn’t my money, in the main, of that you can be sure.

Behind the front two were 6/1 chances Midas Touch (again from Ballydoyle) and Workforce, and ‘Sir’ Henry Cecil’s 13/2 poke, Bullet Train. The rest, it seemed, didn’t count.

The race itself was curious. The third prong of Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle trident attack, and pacemaker for the other two runners, was At First Sight, and it was he who set a searing early gallop at housewife’s and fantasist’s odds of 100/1.

The peloton was strung out in behind, and push came somewhat prematurely to shove in many unexpected camps – most notably when a certain cheeky Italian in a royal blue silk shirt start ‘getting into’ his mount, Rewilding.

As they hurtled into the straight, off the various cambers and nuances that constitute this most curious of Classic course constitutions, At First Sight had nicked a full eight length advantage. And there were but three furlongs to race.

In behind, Ryan Moore – typically almost stoic when out of the saddle, but agitated into a galvanizing frenzy here – chucked the proverbial kitchen sink at his mount, Workforce (though not mercifully the literal kitchen sink as that would have almost certainly caught the eye of the stewards…). The same was true of Messrs Dettori and Murtagh, aboard Rewilding and Jan Vermeer respectively.

And, of course, in splendid, though terrifying – like the fox who can smell the hounds behind – isolation was At First Sight, leading on and with the jam stick in distant sight ahead. The outsider’s pilot, Jamie Heffernan, was getting serious now and, as he realised he actually had a chance of fairy-tale longshot glory, his heart must have been demonstrating tremendously tachycardiac tendencies.

The home straight at Epsom is all too long if you’re out front: a never-ending verdant carpet, masking bog-like leg-sapping qualities for the leader. Where is the line? When will this end? Where is the line?!!

For those in behind, and closing, it’s generally a few short yards from top to bottom. Come on, horse, pick up. Come on! Pick up, yahr, YAHHRR!!

The cussing and the wailing and the fussing and the flailing of arms aboard those high-class poursuivants – Midas Touch, Jan Vermeer, Rewilding and Workforce were the only palpable dangers to the pacemaker – became increasingly evident.

And, as the three furlong pole became the two furlong pole, one of that fancied quartet became a clear and real danger. As At First Sight began to toil in the invisible stride-shortening quag that front-runners so often encounter, so Workforce – under that brutish Moore encouragement – began to gulp up the ground at a rate of two strides to the leader’s one.

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Workforce had been six lengths behind the leader at the three pole. By the two marker, it was a length. A second later, they were level and the outcome was inevitable.

With a furlong to go, Workforce was two clear of At First Sight, and another four clear of anything else. He galloped on resolutely to the line, to win by an emphatic seven lengths in a course record time.

At First Sight gallantly and deservedly held second from the running-on Rewilding, with a further full four lengths back to fourth- and fifth-placed stablemates, Jan Vermeer and Midas Touch, who both held every chance and simply weren’t good enough.

That Workforce broke the course record by a second (equal to five lengths!) says as much about the state of the ground as it does about his performance. The proximity of At First Sight, beaten in lesser Group company prior to coming here, gives a hollow look to the form. At first sight, at least (if you’ll pardon the atrocious pun).

In fact, looking back, we see that most of the other fancied runners have run at least some sort of race in behind: Rewilding struggled on the track and did brilliantly to get third; Jan and Midas were next in, and it was only ‘Sir’ Henry’s Bullet Train who disappointed against market expectations, trailing in as ‘lanterne rouge’ or tail-end Charlie if you prefer.

The merit of the race will only become evident in due course. I suspect it’s a very good Derby, and I can’t help but wonder how a certain Sea The Stars would have performed in this field. Such idle conjecture is of course the lifeblood of racing, but it serves no real purpose.

Far better to ponder what next for Workforce, and whether there are any credible dangers to him who are still in training…

Well, as it happens, we had to wait less than twenty-four hours to discover that, yes, there is a thoroughly credible rival to Sir Michael Stoute’s imperious English Derby winner.

Across La Manche, and somewhere outside Paris in the beautiful environs of Chantilly, the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) was scheduled for Sunday last.

In a whopping 23 runner field (the biggest since 1858!), Cape Blanco – the Epsom absentee – was sent off a warm 2/1 favourite, with challengers aplenty including impressive Prix de Guiche winner Bekhabad, facile French 2000 Guineas winner Lope De Vega, and Ice Blue, who was bidding to give Ryan Moore his third Classic in as many days.

As it transpired, it was a one horse race. Ostensibly drawn in a horror stall, twenty gates from the inside rail, Lope De Vega ‘pinged the lids’, got right across to sit on the heels of the early leader, and took it up with over half a mile to go. The manner of his victory,  sprinting clear from a massive and competitive field, having swung through the race on the bridle, suggested he’d nicked it off a slow pace which is so very often the way in France.

But a look at the time shows the race was run four and a half lengths quicker than standard, implying this was an excellent performance.

So there we are. Somewhat under the radar, we have a horse quietly ‘doing a Sea The Stars’, as he is now the easy winner of both the French 2000 Guineas and French Derby.

Connections suggested post-race that he’ll drop back to mile trips, and the Prix Jacques le Marois looks to be next on the agenda. But, should he win one – perhaps two – more Group 1’s between now and October, the temptation to go for the Arc must surely be too much. With a Group 1 over 1m 2 1/2f (the French Derby trip) in the bag, and a cosy one at that, surely they’ll lunge for the dangling golden carrot and go for Arc glory.

We can but hope. Lope de Vega vs. Workforce (with Fame and Glory heading the supporting cast), would be a phenomenal race and might even render some pressure to the infallibility of Sea The Stars as the finest horse of our generation.

Time will tell.


Now then, from the sublime to the ridiculous!

Today at Yarmouth, 4.40, the Geegeez geegee, Always De One struts her stuff in a 1m1f selling contest. This is her level, if truth be told, and she’s in good form.

She’s not run on the turf for some time, and counter arguments suggest at once that she may improve for it and she may not act on it!

The trip is right however, and the jockey – Adam Beschizza – is gaining experience fast and won earlier in the week.

In what is a moderate contest, Always must have a squeak today. Fingers, and other appendages, firmly crossed.


It will not have escaped your attention that a certain football tournament is due to start this Friday. As with most things, sporting or otherwise, I have a view. In fact, I have several views, some of which I’ll share with you either tomorrow or Friday.

I’ll be looking at the top scorer, the outright winner, and some value in the group betting, as well as perhaps some referees who might make a buy of the cards an interesting proposition…


And finally, I have managed to book a holiday in Royal Ascot week for the third time in four years. It really is flabbergasting how a former project manager at consultancy level can be such a terrible planner! (In my defence, Mrs Matt booked this trip as she will be running in the ‘Midnight Sun’ marathon in Tromso, north of the Arctic Circle).

Luckily, my good mate Gavin never holidays at such important times, and he’s currently feverishly swatting and ‘statting’ away, as he prepares his Festival Trends manual. I’m not exactly sure when it’ll be ready, but ‘soon’ is the short answer.

If you want to know about the Royal Ascot Festival, that’s one manual that I couldn’t recommend more highly.

Right, enough for today. Look out for my World Cup preview very soon, and


Pip pip!


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