Derby stands alone as ultimate test of steel and ability
The Epsom Derby may not be the once-a-year crew's cup of tea, but for the Flat-racing industry, it's all about next Saturday.
It is perhaps difficult to measure the scale of importance of the Derby in context. But we can safely assume that a horse which can successfully negotiate Epsom's camber quicker than anything else on the day will guarantee a future role as a sire, and immediately provide connections with a virtual cash-in button.
Most would argue that winning the Derby is the job done for a three-year-old. There have only been six Derby winners to have raced on as a four-year-old since 1990 and perhaps only High Chaparral vindicated the decision. High-Rise (1998), Quest For Fame (1990) and Sir Percy all failed to win as four-year-olds, while North Light (2004) was retired due to injury on his only ever start as a four-year-old. Workforce, of course, made a winning seasonal reappearance on Thursday.
Indeed the Derby is a major step in any aspiring stallion's career. Win it and it's job near done; fail to deal with the supreme test and a large chink is uncovered in the armour. The Derby is the epicentre of the cycle. Quite simply it is the greatest test a thoroughbred could be put through. It's rare you get much of a hard luck in-running story, and with the exception of Dylan Thomas and Sir Percy's subsequent runs in recent times, the best horse always wins.
So great is the test of Epsom, you can easily see sense behind Frankel's absence, even though he is a son of 2001 winner Galileo and though an ample case can be made for his stamina.
Some might argue that the race itself is too much of a test for the thoroughbred, that heading toward Tattenham corner at breakneck speed and up and down the hills presents too much of a physical strain. After recent renewals, a telling stat is that only the mighty Sea The Stars could win on his reappearance after the Derby.
But to criticise the Derby on this front is to misunderstand the point of the race and contradict the earlier footnote that the race is a major step to immediate glory and future stud value. Everything is tested. From the walk down the narrow chute that leads them on to the track, to the parade in front of the packed stands, to the canter down to the starting stalls, all systematically test a horse's temperament to deal with a big occasion, just like any other athlete in any other sport.
The opening of the gates leads to the sprint for Tattenham Corner and it is imperative for your horse to be able to get into an early rhythm. The ups and downs will set some horses alight, while the sharp bends will also test the balance and poise of a horse. While adopting an early rhythm, it is as important for your horse to have the early pace to hold and maintain a decent position. It may sound misguided to say that in a 12-furlong race, where stamina is a more important attribute than speed, the start from the stalls is all important, but invariably if you're not in a position close enough to the leaders, you're fighting a losing battle.
Perhaps one sign of the Derby's significance is the fact that it marked the beginning of Coolmore's dominance of the bloodstock industry. It has been said that when Robert Sangster and Co crossed over to America in the early 1970s that it was Derby winners they were looking for. They came back with The Minstrel and that was that.
The modern-day Coolmore operation has disappointingly only struck twice in the Derby -- back-to-back wins with High Chaparral following up Galileo in 2002. It seems unusual that when Galileo was victorious, he was the sole representative for Ballydoyle in the race as the annual Aidan O'Brien brigade of runners is now a tradition.
Of course the race this year has the added spice of a Queen-owned favourite in Carlton House and even in a season of seasons on the Flat racing scene, with a number of monstrous clashes due to take place elsewhere in the coming months, it's still all about winning the Derby.
Sunday Indo Sport