So the age-old Derby formula will not be holding this year, writes Tony Stafford. Third in the 2,000 Guineas (well fourth it used to be, as I conceded last week) meant first in the Derby at Epsom, but Luxembourg is lame. He will therefore not be carrying the Coolmore/Westerberg colours into yet another very probable annexation of English racing’s most sought-after prize.
Just as well then that a legion of bench-warmers took the opportunity at Chester and Lingfield to step up into the principal positions. First it was Changingoftheguard, running all over Godolphin’s theretofore Derby second favourite, New London, in the Chester Vase. It was great to see a revitalised Ryan Moore dominating the entire three-day fixture with superlative tactical riding from start to finish.
Chester revealed Ryan back to his very best, remarkably so in the face of the continuing serious health problems of his younger brother Josh, which have brought universal messages of sympathy from all around the racing world.
Changingoftheguard won the Chester Vase by a wide margin and then, in picking up the Dee Stakes with Star Of India, the Ballydoyle team had already started stacking up the back-up squad for the first Saturday in June.
It’s probably worth mentioning that their other three runners at the meeting - the filly Thoughts Of June in the Cheshire Oaks (there’s a name to conjure with!), Temple Of Artemis in the three-year-old handicap on the Thursday, and a lone Friday runner, Cleveland, who picked up the Chester Cup almost as an after-thought - all also crossed the line in front.
Then on Saturday it was on to Lingfield for their Derby Trial and, faced by another Godolphin/Appleby/Buick favourite in Walk Of Stars, Ryan and his mount, United Nations, were comfortably the best on the day.
Paul Smith, son of Derrick, was quizzed at every call on Saturday (as was Kevin Buckley at Chester) as to where he thought the pecking order might now be behind Luxembourg, but that was before yesterday’s news that the favourite will not run. Now I’m sure if you were to ask Paul or Derrick Smith, or Michael Tabor, or John and the junior Magniers or Georg von Opel or even Peter Brant in whose colours he runs, they would all shout in unison, “Stone Age!”
Where did that colt suddenly appear from, you would be entitled to ask? Well, certainly not from the upper reaches of the Classic consciousness after his five winless, although not promise-free, runs as a juvenile.
They brought a couple of second places in Group races, notably a one-length defeat behind the James Ferguson-trained Kodiac colt El Bodegon in the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud over ten furlongs in testing ground in late October. If it proved Stone Age’s stamina credentials – as if they were ever in doubt – it certainly also hurried Ferguson into the upper stratum of international racing.
El Bodegon has yet to appear since, but he has a Dante entry at York this week and then is a 25-1 shot for the Derby. That makes him ten times the price of Stone Age after a 13-length reappearance win at Navan on March 22 and then a five-and-a-half length romp in the Derby Trial at Leopardstown yesterday.
Each successive winning triallist won with authority, with Changingoftheguard and Stone Age showing the most. It will shock nobody to learn that all four colts – and the Cheshire Oaks heroine, too, are by Galileo, his famed Classic-winning genes still as effective a year on from his death at the age of 23.
Talking of Chester, only one of the five O’Brien winners was not by Galileo. Cleveland, who was stepping up a mile from his longest previous race distance to win the great staying handicap, is by Camelot, also the sire of Luxembourg. Camelot will doubtless have other chances of siring the winner of the second Classic he won.
The hardest part for any trainer is to break into the big league. Last week George Boughey won the 1,000 Guineas with Cachet and Ferguson must also be harbouring that dream, probably first imagined in the years his father John was, with Simon Crisford, at the helm of running the Godolphin interests of Sheikh Mohammed.
Another young Newmarket handler who may not be too far away from joining them is Tom Clover. On Saturday Clover took the Oaks Trial at Lingfield, his first stakes win, with the unbeaten Rogue Millennium, a bargain buy for the Rogues Gallery from the Shadwell dispersal. She was bought on the strong recommendation of her previous handler, Marcus Tregoning, who never got her to the track. A beautiful, strong daughter of Dubawi, she cost 35,000gns at auction and with her pedigree, looks and above all ability must be worth half a million!
I’d love her to win the Oaks. Tom and his wife Jackie, daughter of the late and much-missed Classic trainer Michael Jarvis, are showing signs of moving smoothly onto racing’s top table;
One necessary ingredient in racing is luck. Another is the ability to take an opportunity when it comes along. On Friday morning in Kentucky, one of the original 20 horses in the field for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Louisville, was withdrawn owing to a late injury.
That left the way for the 21st acceptor on the list, Rich Strike, an 80/1 shot trained by Eric Reed and ridden by the unknown South American jockey Sonny Leon, to squeeze into the line-up and race from the widest draw of all.
His two best runs this spring had been placed efforts (third and fourth) in minor stakes behind Tiz The Bomb, favoured on both occasions, each time as a 20/1 shot or longer at Turfway Park. That horse was also in Saturday’s field and started a 30/1 shot.
Race commentator Larry Colmuss couldn’t have considered him much either because the second highest-priced winner of the race in the past 110 years had already run past the two favourites into the lead before he even noticed him.
Rich Strike bolted up and afterwards his trainer, who had the mortification of losing a large part of his string, his records, trophies and memorabilia in a stable fire a few years ago, said he had been very hopeful as he knew he would stay.
I don’t know what the horse is like in his stable but I can honestly say I have never seen so graphic a sight of one horse trying literally to savage another. For several minutes as Sonny Leon was trying to participate in a post-race interview his horse was attacking the pony, despite all the efforts of that horse’s rider.
Eric Reed certainly had luck on his side when he decided to claim the colt out of a race on the same Churchill Downs track last autumn. You pay your money beforehand over there, and if they run badly you have to bite the bullet.
Eric Reed and his owners didn’t have a bullet to bite, just the thrill of seeing the horse, bred and raced in the famed Calumet Farm colours, romp home by more than 17 lengths. Even then, thoughts of the Kentucky Derby must have been some way from even their optimistic minds.
It is hard not to sympathise with the jockey who rode him that day. That young man had to endure each of the two days of the meeting riding a single unfancied and unsighted horse, before watching the Derby. An Englishman who between 2010 and 2017 rode between a high of 39 and low of 15 wins over those eight seasons, he left for a new career in the US the following year.
Initially his move to the US brought great success and by early December 2018 he had ridden well over 50 winners, enough to put him second in the Fair Grounds, Louisiana, jockey standings.
No doubt he would never have expected to have ridden a Kentucky Derby winner in that horse’s only previous career win. The way Rich Strike finished on his return to Churchill Downs offers hope that the winning will not stop there.
Anyway, have you guessed the identity of the jockey? I think I’ d like to delay the revelation to allow me what I have always thought was the funniest moment ever at a disciplinary inquiry in the UK. Up before the terrifying if slightly out-of-touch gentleman in charge of the inquiry, upon being asked for his name, our hero said: “Beschizza” which the gent misinterpreted as “Biscuit, sir”. “Well Mr Biscuit,” he began. No wonder Adam of that name thought he’d better go elsewhere to ply his trade.
A nephew of Julia Feilden, he’s very much from a racing background and if he hasn’t quite made the big time in the US he will always be able to tell his grandchildren of the day he rode the horse that was to win the Kentucky Derby to a 17-length win also at Churchill Downs.