By Tony Stafford
We’re in the middle of a truly English weekend. All the major protagonists have been as English as – in the case of Frankie Dettori – Papa John’s Pizza and lasagne. I start with the jockey as the 40th Coral-Eclipse was a triumph for the home team with John Gosden guiding the training of Anthony Oppenheimer’s home-bred Derby winner Golden Horn to Sandown success.
Now with a career tally of five from five, Golden Horn has so far remained out of reach of would-be purchasers. By dropping down to ten furlongs with such certainty, in the process beating the entirely worthy The Grey Gatsby, he has ensured that the recruiters from Dubai and Qatar will continue to sniff around.
Mr O might eventually succumb to the advances, but first this son of one of the major South African diamond mining families will be looking across at the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, for so long sponsored by De Beers, the family firm.
Now it’s supported by Qipco, the Qatar-owned sponsor also of Ascot racecourse, and with another huge weight for age advantage over whatever older horse turns up apart from fellow Gosden-handled three-year-old Jack Hobbs, that great race looks his for the taking.
The situation with Jack Hobbs is intriguing. After his emphatic win in last weekend’s Irish Derby there seems every point in his trying to repeat his earlier Investec Derby second behind Golden Horn.
He is in different ownership – Sheikh Mohammed having bought the major share from Gosden’s wife Rachel Hood and friends (who retain 37.5%) – and a status quo second would net them £215,000, with the winner’s share being £567,100. A hefty extra £780k to add to the £2.8 million Big John’s domestic runners have earned in 2015.
It was nice to go to Sandown, but on a day of utter misery on the northern portion of the M25, we took three hours from the Waltham Abbey turn, without once encountering evidence of an accident. True there was Wimbledon and the Hampton Court Flower Show, but no one seemed to get off the motorway at the prescribed exits for those events.
Coming back was better and as we waited at the roundabout off the A3 to return to the M25, Harry said: “Look, it’s Oppenheimer”. And true enough, there he was in the driver’s seat of a Range Rover, looking anything but the worse for wear, just like a few minutes before when I took the chance to shake his hand with a “well done” before leaving the track.
Wherever Mr Oppenheimer was off to, he will have had a totally different journey this time with nothing on either side of the road to hint at what had gone before.
Obviously the tennis has been compelling with that English rose Heather Watson, from Guernsey, giving Serena Williams the fright of her life on Friday afternoon. Her performance deserved the ultimate reward, but in giving one of those brave Brit near-misses she almost certainly earned a higher place in the nation’s affections than had she actually won.
While chugging along at 10 mph and hoping to hear some live tennis, possibly on Dustin Brown, Nadal’s Thursday conqueror, we tuned to BBC Five Live which seemed much more intent on covering qualifying for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Their man on the scene in Northamptonshire proudly stated: “There’s 110,000 here today and there’ll be 140,000 for the race tomorrow.” As only two of the 20-odd cars lining up have a feasible chance, and they are from the same team – bit like Golden Horn and Jack Hobbs in the King George, maybe? – one might wonder why they bother.
Luckily, the actual qualifying went on after we’d got to Sandown so we were spared the undoubted delirium when Lewis Hamilton, from Stevenage, got yet another pole position ahead of teammate, Rosberg. I’ll tune in this afternoon for the first lap and its possible collisions, after which I can look for something less routine.
There was nothing predictable about England’s women in the World Cup. I stayed up to see the semi-final where they were the team most likely before conceding a freak own-goal in injury time against Japan. I’m sure if they’d got to extra-time they’d have won, such was their growing control.
Then last night from a much less inhospitable start time of 9 p.m. I switched after the two episodes of Cordon on BBC4 – yes, I’ve stayed with it and it’s getting better – caught all the extra time against Germany. It was decided by a penalty, and no it was not for the Germans, but for us! That was the first win by an English women’s team against Germany who came into the tournament as favourites, and was won by energy, belief and no mean skill.
Staying with football, I see there was another major triumph overnight when that consummate Londoner Alexis Sanchez got the decisive penalty in Chile’s first Copa America win, and over arch-opponents Argentina: Messi, Angel Di Maria and all. Sanchez loves London and will love it more next year as another true son of the capital, Petr Cech, joins him in an Arsenal shirt. Surely this time, although the canny Mourinho has enticed Falcao to reprise his attacking link with former Atletico partner Diego Costa.
I’m hoping for a bit of rain at Ascot this week as Dutch Law, Ray Tooth’s improving home-bred is set for a nice handicap on Friday. His fluent two-length win at Newmarket has already had notable boosts with five of the 14 beaten horses turning out again and all running with credit.
The third returned quickly at Windsor, for a closer third; the eighth home won at that track last Sunday; the tenth failed by a short-head to get up at Beverley yesterday, while the pair right at the back were respectively fourth at Wolverhampton and third at 66-1 at Lingfield.
He’s up 6lb to 81, but looks to fit nicely in this 0-90 and Hughie Morrison reckons he’s in great shape. With only Newmarket’s July meeting, York and Chester in the evening competing for riders, we shouldn’t have too much trouble and we hope Martin Harley can resume the partnership.
Saturday of course is a complete nightmare with Newmarket’s July Cup and Bunbury Cup, York’s John Smith’s Cup, Ascot’s Summer Mile, not to mention Chester which stages a Listed race, all in opposition.
Now we’ve been told that Newmarket switched the days of the July meeting from Tuesday to Thursday first by one day and then on to the present Thursday to Saturday abortion because the race was included in Hong Kong betting pools. Hong Kong do not want it this year, so maybe Newmarket will change back as early as 2016. It’s a bit galling that we feel we have to fall over ourselves to let outsiders control our racing.
I hope Newmarket do change and go the whole hog, and I would also be screaming at York and Chester to take back their big May meetings to the traditional Tuesday to Thursday dates, if only for the fact that Friday driving up and down the M6 and M1 can be purgatory, especially for the jockeys. Then you might start getting true racing fans turning up. You could pretty much guarantee that a Thursday July Cup would attract many more people than the last few Saturday dates have mustered and a much better-behaved crowd to boot.