Required by the day job to be in St Andrews on Friday night, reporting the latest example of governmental hope over experience in the Northern Ireland power-sharing talks, I was determined still to make it to Champions’ Day at Newmarket. Sir Percy’s first appearance since the Derby, a cracking contest for the Cesarewitch and the prospect of a renewed duel between two outstanding two-year-olds in the shape of Teofilo and Holy Roman Emperor for the Darley Dewhurst Stakes looked like providing the perfect Flat finale before most of us turn our attention to the jumping game.
Hence a 2.45 a.m. reveille to drive to Edinburgh and check in 11 boxes of TV equipment at 4.15 for a 6.15 flight. Hope began to wane after BMI kept us one hour 50 minutes in the check-in queue (no, nothing to do with security, just incompetent processing) and although we still just made the delayed flight there was worse to come on arrival back in London before the final leg.
Mrs Oakley, herself just back from a trip to Turin, was not only in need of the car but also had a duty or two in mind. A little matter of the nine for dinner that evening. With that faint gleam in the eye and knowing which side my bread is buttered, a tactical decision was required. It became Newmarket on the box. But while there is no substitute for live racing, for watching the on-edge prancing in the paddock, for hearing the thud of hoofbeats and the crack of the whip, for seeing close-up that ‘didn’t I do well?’ gleam in the eye of the victor as the saddle is pulled off his heaving flanks, it has to be said that the Channel Four team run it pretty close, mixing amuse-gueule reminders of past clashes with sagacious in-running commentary and shrewd post-race analysis.
Certainly it was a day to savour. Jumping trainer Philip Hobbs reminded us of the winter pleasures to come by capturing the Cesarewitch marathon with his promising grey hurdler Detroit City. In the process he enabled jockey Jamie Spencer, who certainly played his part with a cool waiting ride, to become the first for more than a century to ride both halves of the Autumn Double, having taken the Cambridgeshire with Formal Decree a fortnight before.
In the Champion Stakes itself Sir Percy, whose second in the 2000 Guineas last year was the only time he had previously been beaten, ran a disappointing, lacklustre race, but the sporting Newmarket crowd gave a great reception to the French heroine Pride. The six-year-old mare, who became the oldest winner of the race since 1887, improved on being runner-up in last year’s Champion and her close-up second in this year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe to dominate the race from a furlong out and run clear of her field. She may now go on to the Hong Kong Cup, another race in which she has been second before. After that, as trainer Alain de Royer-Dupré put it, she will turn to having babies. It won’t only be Madonna who will have her eye on those.
But it was the seven-furlong Dewhurst, won last year by Sir Percy, which gave us the warmest of memories to take into the winter months and which held out the prospect of a quite exceptional Classic year in 2007. Teofilo, trained by Jim Bolger, and Holy Roman Emperor, trained by Aidan O’Brien, had met once before in the National Stakes at The Curragh with the unbeaten Teofilo running out the victor. Since then Holy Roman Emperor had impressed all with a stunning victory in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardère in Paris.
In the Dewhurst, Teofilo, named after Cuba’s three-time Olympic heavyweight boxing champion Téofilo Stevenson and with a build to match, showed similar fighting qualities, too. He had seemingly gone clear when Holy Roman Emperor weaved through the pack and charged up to him. The Ballydoyle horse even headed Teofilo for a few yards. But then Kevin Manning got his mount to dig deep and kick back. The two duelled furiously and at the line Teofilo had it by a head. I would not want to miss their next encounter and, thanks to the aerial-view repeat Channel Four showed us of the race, I would not be as certain as many that it will be Teofilo who wins next time.
Mick Kinane had Holy Roman Emperor at the back and when he first started to get to work on him they were trying to come up the stands rail. The gap there closed and the view from above (which I would not have seen had I been at the track) clearly demonstrated how Kinane had had to weave his mount through the field with the dexterity of a polo pony before unleashing his final burst. Given the amount of work Holy Roman Emperor had to do even to get to Teofilo, it was not surprising he was seen off by one final thrust, especially as he is more of a firm-ground horse. Given better going next time and a clearer run, I believe Holy Roman Emperor could well turn the tables when the two next meet, hopefully back at Newmarket for the 2000 Guineas next spring.
Jockey Kevin Manning obviously does not share my opinion. He declares of Teofilo, ‘When you get into a battle you can feel him under you lifting again.’ Nor does trainer Jim Bolger. He says of his burly two-year-old colt, ‘He’s four really. He doesn’t know he’s only two. He’s got that kind of mentality.’ And he insists there is no danger of the stable star being sold off to Godolphin or any other would-be purchaser. ‘Not unless I fall out with the owner anyway.’ Since Teofilo is owned by his wife Jackie that does not seem too likely.