Wednesday 22 November 2017

Rival superpowers still frantically shuffling Derby decks

State of chassis over field only adds to Epsom drama, writes Ian McClean

Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Ian McClean

At precisely this time every year, someone unfurls the Federico Tesio line about the purpose of the thoroughbred depending on the jamstick at Epsom on the first Saturday in June.

From time to time since the pioneering 20th century Italian owner-breeder announced the sentiment, the words might have appeared hollow, with the popularity of the race sporadically waning. Inevitably, the perceived importance of a race fluctuates over time but, judged by the unholy scramble amongst the good and the great these last weeks to unearth a worthy challenger for next Saturday's renewal, it would appear the Epsom Derby currency has rarely been more valuable.

The past week has been particularly frenetic, reminiscent of Pirandello's absurdist Six Characters in Search of an Author with rival all-powerful racing operations madly searching under every stone for a credible candidate for Epsom honours.

The Qataris in particular appear intent on throwing all they can muster at winning the world's most prestigious flat race for the first time. And equally, while the Middle-Eastern ruling dynasty is in pursuit of its very first Derby, the powerhouse of Coolmore, winner of the last four Derbies, has been just as exercised in coming up with a trump for the coveted event.

Meanwhile, Godolphin, for fear of being left out in the cold in racing's answer to the arms race, has acquired a half-share in Jack Hobbs, which will appear in their light blue on the day.

In spite of Qatari Sheikh Fahad's newly-retained Andrea Atzeni accompanying Racing Post Trophy winner Elm Park around the contours of Tattenham Corner at Breakfast with the Stars on Tuesday, it emerged that he might yet switch to impressive German Guineas winner Karpino before that horse was designated an extra week's rest in advance of a pop at the local German Derby instead.

There was even talk of supplementing unbeaten French-trained Sumbal before the weather forecast persuaded connections to keep that one at home for French Derby duty instead this afternoon.

Nonetheless, Qatar will still have strength in numbers via outsiders Moheet (eighth in the Guineas) and Rogue Runner.

Coolmore continues to shuffle and reshuffle the deck with 'the lads' imitating Prince Charming in trying on the glass slipper all over their equine kingdom. Trial winners Kilimanjaro and Hans Holbein must feel a bit like the ugly sisters knowing the slipper doesn't quite fit and watching on as Giovanni Canaletto feels the pinch, while champion miler Gleneagles is almost shoe-horned into a stamina slipper. Cinderella still hasn't quite been found. Although the female Found might just become that Cinderella if she is supplemented for the ball tomorrow morning.

The last filly to run in the mile and-a-half Classic was the also supplemented Cape Verdi, which finished ninth in 1998, with Nobiliary the latest to be placed when second to Grundy in 1975. Six fillies have won the Derby, although the latest was 99 years ago when Fifinella landed a wartime substitute Derby at Newmarket. However slim the probability of a filly winning the Derby for the first time in a century, the temptation is understandable given that the front two horses in the market are both doubtful stayers. That is not to say that Golden Horn or Zawraq won't win a Derby, it is simply to reiterate what their connections have publicly expressed already.

Dermot Weld admits of his unbeaten, twice-raced Zawraq that "on his most immediate pedigree, you'd say he's a miler", while Anthony Oppenheimer, who will supplement Golden Horn at a cost of £75,000 tomorrow, believes his home-bred's family don't get a yard beyond a mile and a quarter. Which is why the horse was never entered in the Derby in the first instance. But it is the very state of chassis that makes Epsom Derby 2015 so compelling.

On the subject of drama, a parallel plot-line prevails in the jockey-go-round that has certainly benefited Frankie Dettori. The effervescent Italian's career rebounded from a potentially terminal dip when appointed to ride for Al Shaqab, only to be cruelly deprived of an Arc win on Treve through injury. Dettori's additional tie-up with the John Gosden yard this season is reaping instant dividends.

Even so, he backed the wrong candidate when he preferred Jack Hobbs to Golden Horn in the Dante and looked sure to have forfeited the ride on the Derby favourite to William Buick only for Godolphin - which retains Buick - to step in for the share of Jack Hobbs. It all means the ride on Golden Horn returns to Dettori, who bids to add to his sole Derby victory on Authorized in 2007. And Dettori, more than most, knows the importance of being in the saddle when the currency is high.

Sunday Indo Sport

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