Wednesday 13 December 2017

Derby wheel of Fortune ready to fire

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

It's funny how fate has a way of eventually balancing things out.

Four years ago, Jimmy Fortune was royally shafted in the eyes of most racing observers when John Gosden and Sheikh Mohammed opted to replace him with Frankie Dettori on Raven's Pass in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita.

A native of Co Wexford, Fortune, who turns 40 on June 14, had forged a tremendous association with the horse that summer, playing a massive part in the compelling rivalry with the Aidan O'Brien-trained Henrythenavigator that played out across four legs throughout 2008.

The Ballydoyle horse triumphed in the Guineas, at Goodwood and at Ascot, before Fortune lowered his colours in the QEII by poaching an early lead on Raven's Pass, which ran in the colours of the Sheikh's wife Princess Haya.


It was all set fair for Santa Anita, but Fortune was left shovelling coal at Doncaster as Dettori reaped the fruit of his labours.

Initially, there was a suggestion that Fortune had volunteered to step aside because he didn't feel experienced or sharp enough to do the horse justice on an American dirt track.

That never washed, though, and the truth soon emerged.

After a similar decision had seen Dettori ride Poached to victory for Gosden at the Breeders' Cup 12 months later, the Newmarket handler, one of the most respected figures in international Flat racing spheres, explained his thinking.

"It is not my fault that my normal jockey has not experienced racing on American racetracks," he said.

"You saw Frankie Dettori win two races here last year. The owners see that he is available -- it is a no-brainer. It's no fault of Jimmy's but he has never ridden here." Shortly afterwards, their formal association, which began in 2005 but had yielded 12 of Fortune's 15 Group One winners since 2001, ceased.

Given the dignified nature of the two men involved, there were no dramatics, but it was a sad end to the archetypal partnership between a quintessential English trainer and his hard-working, unassuming Irish jockey.

In the meantime, Gosden and his new protege William Buick have carried on merrily, while Fortune has laboured.

He was hardly on a rung as low as when apprenticed to Jim Bolger during the mid-80s, but he has still needed to reinvent himself as a freelance rider.

"I had to start again," he admitted recently. "It was hard for me to lose the quality of horse that I'd been used to at John's, and very difficult to find that sort of horse again."


Three years after Gosden's Rainbow View provided him with his last Group One winner in the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown, he might have finally found that horse.

Bonfire, the unexposed Dante Stakes winner that Fortune describes as being "like an overactive child", is one of only two contenders that trade at single figures in the betting for Saturday's Epsom Derby.

Camelot and his kid jockey, Joseph O'Brien, are odds-on to bring the holy grail to Ireland, but the veteran Fortune, six months the elder of Bonfire's trainer Andrew Balding, has the potential to provide a fairytale result of a different kind.

Dettori's current pickle provides the ironic symmetry.

The single most successful jockey of his generation has missed the Derby just once -- following his helicopter crash -- since 1992, but this time he might not even be granted the humiliation of being sat in the Epsom weigh room watching on the closed circuit television.

Incredibly, the veteran is expected to be on duty at Haydock.

With 20-year-old Mickael Barzalona aboard Godolphin's Kailani in tomorrow's Oaks, the Italian -- hitherto untouchable in Sheikh Mohammed's eyes -- is now the one feeling the full force of the Dubai prince's ruthlessness.

Fortune, level-headed, quietly determined and very strong, isn't the sort to take pleasure in that, but it just goes to show you how fickle a game horse racing really is.

He will take what chances come his way.

Irish Independent

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