Anticipation building as Ambiente’s Derby date nears

James Fanshawe has admitted being “a little bit more on edge” than usual as he puts the finishing touches to his Betfred Derby contender Ambiente Friendly.

The veteran trainer has enjoyed big-race success across the globe since taking out his licence in 1990 and it did not take him long to saddle his first runner in the Epsom showpiece, with Environment Friend – like Ambiente Friendly owned by Bill Gredley – lining up as a serious player in 1991.

However, the Dante Stakes winner finished a distant 11th of 13 runners behind Generous in the world’s most famous Flat race and it has taken Fanshawe 33 years to find another horse he believes merits a place in an event he ranks above all others.

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James Fanshawe trains Ambiente Friendly
James Fanshawe trains Ambiente Friendly (Tim Goode/PA)

“It’s a real privilege to have a horse good enough to be going to the Derby with a chance,” Fanshawe said on a media call hosted by the Jockey Club and the British Champions Series on Tuesday.

“The yard is up for the challenge and everyone’s doing their best. Hopefully everyone is paying attention and I’m being nice to them! The build up to the Derby is obviously really important and it’s probably the most important race that we’ve had a runner in.

“We’re trying to go with the flow and make sure the last four days go smoothly, while also taking in what a special occasion it is because the Derby is the premier Classic, we’ve got to remember that, and we’re really thrilled to be having a runner in it.

“If I didn’t say I wasn’t a little bit more on edge (I’d be lying), you react to things a little bit differently than you would normally.

“I try not to drink too much coffee and that sort of stuff, but I’m always a good sleeper. I maybe wake up a bit early in the morning, but sleeping is not a problem – I’ve got lots of other problems, but not sleeping!”

Although Ambiente Friendly showed promise as a juvenile, winning on his Leicester debut before finishing third behind fellow Derby hopeful Ancient Wisdom in the Group Three Autumn Stakes at Newmarket, few would have been putting the son of Gleneagles forward as a legitimate Epsom contender at that stage.

A fourth-place finish in Newmarket’s Feilden Stakes on his April return did little to enhance his claims, but a dominant display in the Lingfield Derby Trial certainly did.

Having now proved himself an improving colt over close to the Derby distance of a mile and a half and shown an ability to handle varying ground conditions, Fanshawe feels he ticks plenty of the required boxes.

“He’s won his trial well, over the trip, and he seems to have come out of the race in good shape,” he continued.

“I think it’s an open race (on Saturday). If you said to me we were going to win the Lingfield Derby Trial by four and a half lengths before the race, I would obviously have been enthusiastic about that.

“The way he went round the corners over that mile and a half, it seemed to bring out the best in him. He was 66-1 for the Derby before Lingfield, but he stayed and won it really well in a really good time, so we’ve done our test.

“There will be horses that ran in the trials that will improve no end for the run. It’s been a wet and cold spring and some strings are in better form now than they were during the trials, so there’ll be lots of people going there thinking their horse has improved and they’ve got a good chance.

“When he won at Leicester, admittedly it was only over seven furlongs, he won that really well and that was pretty testing ground, and it was soft ground in the Autumn Stakes. Hopefully the ground is not too much of a problem for him.”

Rab Havlin will replace Callum Shepherd in the Derby
Rab Havlin will replace Callum Shepherd in the Derby (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Ambiente Friendly will have new rider after Gredley – who cut ties with Fanshawe for several decades before sending him horses again last year – decided to replace Callum Shepherd with the more experienced Robert Havlin, who has since got to know his mount on the Newmarket gallops.

Fanshawe said: “Rab rode him on Friday and Saturday and rode him in his work on Sunday and rode him out this morning. He seems to get on with him well and they seem to have a good rapport.

“I’m very happy with the horse, he did a final bit of work on the Round Gallop over an extended mile on Sunday morning. It wasn’t a strenuous bit but it was just what I wanted, I wanted to cover the ground and I was very happy with how it went.

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“Usually I like to gallop them exactly a week before their designated race, but we’d had so much rain here in Newmarket on Thursday and Friday that the Limekilns were shut. The Jockey Club were very accommodating in allowing us to use the Round Gallop and he went through the gallop very smoothly.

“Post-gallop he seems in good form. He did a couple of canters this morning and seems very well.”

James Fanshawe at Royal Ascot with the late Queen Elizabeth II
James Fanshawe at Royal Ascot with the late Queen Elizabeth II (Rebecca Naden/PA)

Throughout his career Fanshawe has trained out of Pegasus Stables, a yard famously built in 1884 by five-time Derby-winning rider Fred Archer.

Archer, who was champion jockey for 13 consecutive years and rode 21 British Classic winners in all, shot himself aged 29 two years later – and while his ghost is said to be a regular presence, Fanshawe is not relying upon intervention from beyond the grave in his bid for Derby glory.

He said: “Fred built the yard and he’s still around, so he’s been giving good advice hopefully! He won the Derby five times, so he’s got some experience.

“A long time ago the lads actually did get him up on a Ouija board, I don’t know how it worked, but they got him and he told them that Unblest was going to win, and she did at 6-4.”

Asked whether he had thought of attempting to reconnect with Archer in recent days, Fanshawe added: “I’d rather keep the excitement of not knowing the result and let everything take its course.”

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