Boy wonder Barzalona walks tall in Derby glory
When Mickael Barzalona paid his first visit to Epsom, to ride Pour Moi in a spin round the course at 'Breakfast with the Stars' 10 days before the English Derby, he was asked what he thought of the place.
"There is a hill," he replied through an interpreter and, even allowing for something more poetic being lost in translation and the fact that it was a faultless topographical description of the historic racecourse, it did not entirely fill one with confidence.
Epsom is a peculiar place, though. On Saturday, the 19-year-old riding prodigy, who may be shy behind a microphone, expressed himself with rather more clarity on the back of a horse.
He came, saw and conquered the descent of that hill and found himself at the very summit of European racing.
For the first time since 'The Choirboy' (aka Walter Swinburn) on Shergar 30 years before, a Derby freshman -- and one with equally innocent looks -- had won the world's most famous Flat race.
If his last-to-first tactics on Pour Moi were part of a carefully hatched plan and not in themselves completely outrageous, then his spontaneous, potentially reckless, celebration almost before he hit the front and several strides before he had passed the winning post, certainly fitted that category.
Still, if you are the anointed successor to Frankie Dettori, a little showmanship's not going to go amiss. Flying dismounts may not be his distinctive saddle exit strategy yet, but flying finishes are.
Standing bolt upright in the irons and saluting the crowd before you have actually won a race might not have gone down too well with a traditionalist trainer who has a reputation as a stern master like Andre Fabre. But the trainer's joy in finally landing the Derby at his tenth attempt was by no means just confined to the performance of his horse. He talked with a possessive, almost paternal pride of winning it with "my young jockey", excused the boy's celebration as "youthfulness" and merely said he would have a "quiet word" at the right time.
How long he remains "my" jockey remains to be seen. Born in Lyon, the nephew of a jockey and the grandson of a Corsican trainer, Barzalona spent four years at the French jockeys' school in Gouvieux before joining Fabre in 2009.
Last year Fabre won the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot with a horse ridden by another promising young jockey called Maxime Guyon. It was a fine ride.
Arguably the jockey stole the race and there was much talk of how we would see a lot more of Guyon. Well, we did. He came to 'Breakfast with the Stars' -- to ride Barzalona's lead horse, like the prize-fighter demoted to sparring partner. Such is Barzalona's rapid progress.
For the last two winters he has been riding for Godolphin in Dubai -- Fabre oversees Sheikh Mohammed's French operation now. He made an enormous impression in the UAE Derby on Khawlah for Godolphin getting the horse up even closer to the post than he did Pour Moi on Saturday. Fabre's contention that he 'knows where the winning post is' seems an accurate one.
This spring he has been riding as second jockey to Dettori and Godolphin have made no secret of the fact that he is being groomed to take over one day.
The top jockeys in Britain operate at a strike-rate of about 18 to 20pc, but his eight winners from 19 rides have come at a strike rate of 42pc.
Saturday was an interesting development in his career. He has now won his biggest race for Godolphin's fierce rivals, Coolmore, whose main stable, Ballydoyle, is without a regular first jockey.
A tug of war for Barzalona's services is unlikely, however. His loyalties are still with Fabre and Godolphin. Dettori (40) is not ready to be retired yet, but he is unlikely to go on forever and as he is banned for the last two days of Royal Ascot, Barzalona's chance to shine and salute a top-hatted and tailed audience will come again next week.
Meanwhile, Aidan O'Brien's Roderic O'Connor failed to add the French Derby (Prix du Jockey Club) to the Irish 2,000 Guineas when finishing eighth behind Alain de Royer-Dupre's Reliable Man at Chantilly yesterday.
The winner looked to have plenty to do for Gerald Mosse off the back of a conditions race win a month ago, but was well up to the task and secured Royer-Dupre's sixth win in the Classic.
Frankie Dettori had Godolphin's Casamento at the head of affairs early on, with Roderic O'Connor not far away in the hands of Ryan Moore, but both faded in the straight.
Reliable Man was ridden more conservatively by Mosse, but quickened well down the outside of his rivals to overhaul Bubble Chic, prevailing by three-quarters of a length. The strongly-fancied Baraan ran an incredible race to get up for third having been completely tailed off at one stage.
Royer-Dupre said of the winner: "I think he is a great horse.
His best quality is that he has a very good turn of foot. If the ground does not become too firm, I would like to run him in the Grand Prix de Paris next. Then he could be a horse for the Arc." (© Daily Telegraph, London)