‘The Thoroughbred exists not because its selection has depended on experts, technicians or zoologists but one piece of wood: the winning post of the Epsom Derby.’
Frederico Tesio, Italian breeder.
I was once an ignorant old cove and for many years I believed that, in the stag-like shadow of National Hunt, flat racing paled. I stood shoulder to shoulder with cruel souls, who referred to the battles between the patrician colts as ferret racing.
And, of course, many a weather beaten Barbour has mused that seven furlongs is rather a long run-in for the first fence. I, too, felt summer was for cricket and one shouldn’t see a bay coat until the glorious British clouds rolled over the dark satanic hills.
That was until I saw the exquisitely classy win the Derby winner Sea the Stars, the imperishable Frankel at Newmarket, and last year’s ball of muscle Golden Horn.
Indeed, there is distinct lack of romance in the on course summer variant, because a successful Colt is usually retired. But now I readily stand in my confessional and renounce my sins – I adore flat racing!
Today is the Derby, a race run by the world’s best-bred colts. Colts are blue-blooded three year old horses and the product, or perhaps the culmination, of hundreds of years of expert breeding.
The Derby, first run in 1780, is a Group 1 race and is run at Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey over a distance of one mile, four furlongs and the all important 10 yards. The course is uniquely shaped like a wonky horseshoe with a plethora of cambers, slopes, and twists and turns – the incline of the course is 130 feet or the equivalent of nine double-decker buses.
The colts will jostle and posture until the final turn, the famous Tattenham corner. This is where the champion’s coronation begins its electric accession. It also represents the point at which many Derby dreams are shattered. A horse that is unable to maintain a sweet stride down the hill and around the bend, will be in no position to challenge his rivals in the three furlong straight to glory.
to the victor the spoils and this year’s champion colt will earn his owner a mere £876,169.50 in prize money, alongside the adoration of the crowd.
But who will win the 237th Derby?
My hard earned pennies went ante-post on the progressive and lightly raced Wings of Desire, who runs for last year’s winning trainer/jockey combination; John Gosden and the irrepressible Frankie Dettori. The horse, son of the super-sire Galileo, won the key Derby trial, the Dante Stakes, which has produced 11 past winners.
However, I spoke to Gosden and had the pleasure of meeting the handsome Wings of Desire on Thursday, and he felt that the soft ground will be an issue. The champion trainer was, of course, still optimistic he had the best horse in the race.
The ground has created a wide open race and one could support anyone of about 10, and not look a fool.
The unbeaten US Army Ranger, trained by training deity Aiden O’Brien, has every chance. Port Douglas and Deauville, runner-up to Wings Of Desire at York, also have solid credentials.
Nonetheless, my other idea for a little flutter comes from the five-time Derby-winning Bajan knight, Sir Michael Stoute. Ulysses is the best bred horse on show – sired by 2001 Derby winner Galileo and Light Shift, who was victorious the Oaks of 2007 – is a rather attractive price, at 9-1.
I sadly shan’t be at what is one of the most spectacular tableaux’s in sport. I will rather joyously be settling down to a barbecue with a glass of something pink, and be generously adding to the the Ladbrokes chief executive’s retirement fund!
3.45 Red Baron
4.30 (The Derby!) Wings of Desire