By Tony Stafford
For two men in latish middle age, the last 220 yards of the Investec Derby at Epsom will have offered vastly differing emotions. Their respective horses, carrying jockeys sporting very similar blue colours, entered the contest with expectations of polar opposites. As the pair neared the finish, for one there was a shattering anti-climax; for the other, the sporting Scotsman Bill McCluskey, justification for laying out the funds necessary to have a runner in the contest Flat-race owners regard as the greatest in the Calendar.
Sheikh Mohammed’s 2013 has been brutally disfigured by the raft of positive anabolic steroid tests in the Mahmoud Al Zarooni division of his sprawling Newmarket operation. Many might consider the fact that those tested clean in that frantic recent period might be lucky to be cleared to race from now on under the banner of Saeed bin Suroor, whose own portion of the operation showed no sign of transgression of the rules of racing.
Saeed has been getting on with things and winning races with his original 200-strong squad, (now doubled in size) but it took a Jim Bolger acquisition, Dawn Approach, son of Derby winner New Approach, to get the Sheikh back in the Classic fold via the 2,000 Guineas. New Approach carried the colours of Princess Haya of Jordan, Sheikh Mohammed’s wife, after his purchase from the Bolgers, so until now neither the sheikh’s original maroon, nor Godolphin blue has adorned any Derby winner.
Hopes, indeed expectation in many areas of the sport, that the 2,000 Guineas success would extend to a dominating victory in the Derby were dashed within a furlong of the start of Saturday’s race. Horses have to stay if they want to win the Derby; more importantly they have to stay sensible. He didn’t, so he didn’t.
So as Ruler of the World struck on to mock the Ruler of Dubai, and Libertarian came from out of the clouds to be almost a St Leger guarantee in second, Dawn Approach was left to battle with Ocean Applause. Well behind for the length of the straight, Ocean Applause plugged on under Darragh O’Donoghue, once a regular in Godolphin blue, and passed the spent Dawn Approach in the final stride.
I know Bill McCluskley enjoys a bet, and it would be interesting to know if in these days of multiple opportunity, he ever thought to seek out match odds for his horse to beat Dawn Approach. They were respectively 11-8 and 200-1 SP, but evens and 750-1 were the respective prices earlier in the day. He paid his seven grand and his horse, who didn’t beat another rival in his two previous starts, gave him the thrill of a lifetime.
The day was pretty thrilling for plenty of people, not least the Coolmore partners. Derrick Smith came on the scene in time to win the last three Derbys with Pour Moi, Camelot and Ruler of the World but John Magnier and Michael Tabor made it five together. A sequence started with Galileo in 2001 and immediately added to the following year by Hurricane Run, means that Coolmore have five wins in this fledgling century.
Galileo, of course, has been the key to their dominance, carrying on the great Sadler’s Wells tradition, and for the time being New Approach is going to be the one element of Galileo’s extending influence from which they are excluded. How costly has been the Sheikh’s refusal to buy into the Galileo phenomenon except via the Bolger home-bred route? It has made the gifted Irishman a wealthy man and he has no such restrictions on his breeding policy, indeed he was the first outside the Coolmore umbrella fully to appreciate – or lucky enough to identify – Galileo’s potential as a stallion.
Now New Approach is showing similar potential, Dawn Approach a brilliant champion two-year-old from the first crop, going on to Classic success, an achievement matched on Friday in the Oaks success of Talent, heroine of a one-two for Ralph Beckett. Then there’s Libertarian, a fair bet for a third individual first-crop English Classic winner for their sire in a year when only Sky Lantern (Red Clubs) in the 1,000 Guineas escapes the Galileo influence.
After a quiet week, the Raymond Tooth team will be back on track on Monday with a Ralph Beckett three-year-old filly. Motion Lass, a daughter of Derby winner Motivator, will try to break her maiden when she runs in a 0-65 handicap. Hope she wins, Ralph needs some good news after just a 1-2 in the Oaks. Sadly another more pressing engagement means I’ll be missing but hope to see her on At the Races.
Last Monday’s Windsor dead-heater Freeport has an engagement later in the week at Newmarket. It was a great training feat by Brian Meehan to have him ready just nine weeks after a gelding operation and some inspired treatment to combat a new-found tendency for rearing up unexpectedly, to his seasonal debut. A battling share of the spoils under Jimmy Fortune and top weight were a nice surprise for his owner at Windsor. Freeport could be a nice prospect for some better handicaps, and the maiden Great Hall also has a few options this week.
I’m looking forward to it all. After all, it’s June 2; four of the Classics are behind us; the weather’s getting better and Royal Ascot’s on the horizon.
As I said, it’s still only June 2, and for some horses, the Derby came all too late and Telescope with his Sir Alex Ferguson involvement has been principal among them. But the one we’ve all forgotten in the tumult of trying to find the winner, is Ruler of the World’s stable-companion Kingsbarns, so impressive in the Racing Port Trophy last autumn, but held up by injury. Who’s to say he wouldn’t have been good enough had the timing been right.
Nine years ago, Ballydoyle had a similar misfortune. Yeats, yet another son of the great Sadler’s Wells went through the trials with great authority but missed Epsom. He did get there for the only time the following June, winning the Coronation Cup, a distinction won for the past three years by fellow former stable-mate St Nicholas Abbey, another to be denied a run in the Derby in his year.
Yeats, however was destined to become even better known in a different discipline, winning all four Gold Cups at Ascot from 2006-9, as a five- to eight-year-old. One might have thought it would be hard to expect an instant success story when he finally took to the breeding shed at the age of nine, but a short time before St Nicholas Abbey strutted his stuff yet again on Saturday, news came through that Yeats had sired his first two-year-old winner in Italy. Great genes; great ability; brilliant breeding: class will out.