By Tony Stafford
When dawn broke over London and more particularly Epsom yesterday, I already had the theme of my – what do I or you call it? – blog, article, entertaining (one hopes) romp, as the Editor once unwisely suggested, through the years or simply an hour’s self-indulgence.
Who else deserved centre stage but a jockey who’d not had a single ride for his nominal boss in his native land this year – and won’t have at The Curragh today – but came through to win the Investec Oaks on Qualify at 50-1 for said trainer? I’ll get to him later, much later, for as dawn passed to afternoon in Surrey, then across the Atlantic to late afternoon in New York, seismic shocks were delivered to both racing establishments.
Two questions had been exercising the brains of world racing. Would Golden Horn stay a mile and a half, once Anthony Oppenheimer had accepted that he should pay the £75,000 supplement to get his unbeaten colt into the Derby, and would American Pharoah stay the very different mile and a half of the Belmont Stakes to become the 12th winner of the American Triple Crown?
Both questions were answered in the affirmative, much to the delight of Epsom observers, able to watch 44-year-old Frankie Dettori make possibly the most poignant of his trademark dismounts – we left straight after so I’m guessing he did one? – but much more emphatically to the packed stands at Belmont Park after American Pharoah’s trap-to-line right-of-passage around the vast oval that has killed so many owners’ dreams since Affirmed’s win under Steve Cauthen 37 years ago.
Watching on TV last night it was hard to stay immune from the emotion from New York. As he went over the line, Victor Espinosa (at 43, just a jot younger than Frankie) held his whip aloft in celebration – the same whip that crunched down repeatedly on American Pharoah’s flank as he coerced him to success in the first leg of the TC, the Kentucky Derby.
Without what has been construed over here as unacceptably harsh riding, he would probably have been beaten in Louisville and the Triple Crown would not have happened. Suffice to say that the Americans are far less squeamish when it comes to use of the whip. Espinosa, who was on Bob Baffert’s last failed Triple Crown hopeful War Emblem – whose Derby win was my only trip to a Triple Crown race – needed far less vigour this time, all the necessary power was in the Pharoah’s hooves and through his handsome body.
When I said “emotion”, it hardly pays justice to what actually happened. As they crossed the line, the crescendo of sound just swelled into near-delirium as 100,000 proud New Yorkers welcomed the California-trained champ, who won by five and a half lengths from second favourite Frosted. It was a long wait on one of those spaced-out US cards that leaves hours almost between races, but immensely worth it.
It wouldn’t really have mattered if four chimpanzees rather than the two line-ups – that’s right Attheraces had a crack, but sorry Matt (Chapman) I stayed with the other side. They had the tried and tested Angus McNee and James Willoughby duo supplemented by the dour man Mark, who seems to have the same Hull accent that inhabits the channel through other Timeform graduates, and refreshing Rachel. She’s the American lady who first saw the light of day on our tellies in conjunction with her pal Mark Johnson, who must have met her during his commentating stints at Churchill Downs.
Rachel – her surname begins with C and is Italian – was unstinting in her support of American Pharoah’s prospects, even going so far as to reassure one emailer to the show who’d backed the treble of Golden Horn, Barcelona in the Champions League Final and the Pharoah, with “you’ll be fine”. He was, and she was too. Even James was less quirky than usual, apart from frequent glances away from the action and thus the wide-angle camera. It was great entertainment, and real history, even if the host US broadcaster’s frequent jump from Kenny, to Laffit, to Uncle Tom Cobley for a series of 30-second inserts still gets on one’s nerves.
By the way, did you notice that Neymar, who scored the final goal at around 9.55 p.m. BST last night, also won a race for Michael Bell at Newcastle during half-time in the football. Bell, a big Manchester City fan, got 3-1 for his money. Earlier at Newcastle, Sir Alex Ferguson, Champions League-winning manager for the other Manchester club, also had a winner with the promising newcomer Red Artist for Simon Crisford. He had to accept 9-4. 1-0 to Bell!
I don’t know about you, but I reckon Golden Horn was one of the most emphatic Derby winners in recent history. The Dante winner challenged stable-companion Jack Hobbs at the furlong pole, and quickly moved clear. Anthony Oppenheimer has been trying to win the race through his breeding programme for many years and it’s wonderful for him that his trainer, John Gosden, encouraged him to stump up the 75 grand. As I said last week, 10-1 about what turned out to be a 13-8 shot was fair value.
Golden Horn won’t have to be exposed to a mile and a half any more, unless his superiority over his stablemate continues to expand. The Eclipse is there on the near horizon for him and The Curragh beckons Jack Hobbs. It’s great when the Derby goes to an unbeaten colt and as with Sir Ivor and several other potential non-stayers, their wins are generally more glorious.
For now it’s going to be ever onward and upward for Frankie and obviously Ryan Moore who for once missed out on a Classic winner thanks to the late powerful run of Qualify and Colm O’Donoghue on Friday. Aidan O’Brian commented: “We don’t use Colm very much, only on the big days”.
Last weekend Colm was also in England riding five horses at Chester. Three were for Brian Ellison and he was very powerful in the finish on last-gasp winner, Eastern Racer. With the Oaks victory, he now has twice as many wins in England this year as in Ireland where his only success from 16 mounts was on the Tara Lee Cogan-trained Bobby Jean at Limerick.
That track was the scene last night for another Aidan O’Brien-trained winner, Rosshaven Lady, in the concluding mares’ bumper. Owned and bred by Maurice G O’Brien, (any relation?) she won comfortably in the hands of another up-and-coming Ballydoyle rider, Sara O’Brien, who with mum Anne-Marie and sister Ana was in the Epsom paddock earlier in the day. Talk about hard work. No 9-5 for them, more like 5 a.m. to midnight!