Queen's French dejection
The six-figure crowd that thronged the Downs here yesterday had had a tip for the Derby. On the basis that the coverage in the build-up to the race had centred almost exclusively on Carlton House, this beast would surely be hard to beat.
But the media's enthusiasm for the colt was not prompted solely by his ability, considerable though it undoubtedly is. It was the prospect of a first win in the country's premier Classic for the Queen, owner of Carlton House, that thrilled. Alas, as on nearly every occasion, the outcome of a horse race has failed to follow the script.
Those who backed Carlton House down to 5/2 favourite may have feared they would not even get a run for their money in the moments before the off, when he seemed reluctant to enter the stalls. As the seconds ticked by and the colt continued to resist the urgings of the handlers to go forward, there was a danger of a serious anti-climax, but he eventually gave in, prompting his jockey, Ryan Moore, to mutter a relieved "come on" in full view of the millions watching on television.
It was possibly the last moment at which the Royal runner had a favourite's chance for he was slowly away and Moore had to settle for a position further back than he wanted. Even when there are only 12 in opposition, it can be hard to pick a way through the Derby field and, when the ground is fast, this track often favours front runners, as Dancing Rain had proved when making all for a shock success in Friday's Oaks.
Steered to the outside as Moore tried to make headway on the turn into the home straight, Carlton House was pushed wider still by Ocean War, the mount of Frankie Dettori, who would surely be mortified by any suggestion that he got in the Queen's way. It was, after all, his long-standing employer, Sheikh Mohammed, who had gifted Carlton House to his present owner two years ago.
Up front, Treasure Beach was making a determined attempt to be the second outsider in as many days to steal a Classic. Moore drove his mount after him and got within a stride, but Carlton House never quite seemed to be getting there. Thousands of hopeful cries from the stands were then stifled as the French raider, Pour Moi, swept past on the outside, showing the top-class turn of foot that the favourite, relegated to third, was supposed to have.
Moore often looks less delighted with his lot than might be expected of a three-time champion jockey, but he appeared close to tears in the immediate aftermath. Later, he insisted his horse had legitimate excuses for the defeat. "Unfortunately he was a bit slow out," he said.
Asked if Carlton House had had a fair chance to show his ability, he replied: "No, it was wrong. OK the winner's followed me, but it wasn't the race I wanted to ride. But, unfortunately, there was so much dead wood in the race I had to go around them.
"And then the horse on my inside ran up the arse [of the horse in front] and gave me a bump on the bend. He's lost a front shoe and he's run a very good race."
It is impossible to be sure whether the outcome was affected by the minor leg injury that Carlton House was discovered to have on Monday, when it is thought he banged a joint during exercise. His trainer, Michael Stoute, said: "He's run very well, but things just haven't gone right.
"He had a hold-up close to the race and, during it, he got too far back and then had to run wide into the straight. He's still a high-class colt and will have a big day."
The Queen's reaction went unrecorded, but it is hard to avoid the feeling that this was an unimprovable chance in a race that has frustrated her through six decades. There was no diplomatic silence, alas, from the bookmakers.
"The public greeted Her Majesty with 'God Save the Queen', but the bookies are now singing La Marseillaise!'' read a press release from William Hill.
Sunday Indo Sport