Nobody I know has ever been interviewed by an opinion pollster. Nor do I ever encounter anybody who has won one of those holidays in the Bahamas we are encouraged to enter competitions for every time we open a crisp packet or pull the tab off a soft-drink can. I used to be equally sceptical of claims that bookmakers lost between £15 million and £20 million on 28 September 1996, the day Frankie Dettori rode all seven winners on the Ascot cards. I know plenty of people who bet on horses, but none who lay out seven-horse accumulators on a single jockey’s rides. This week I am a little less sceptical. Queuing last Saturday morning outside a rundown Surbiton newsagent’s for my Derby Day Racing Post, I met a fellow punter who had indeed participated in the Frankie bonanza, collecting £48,000 for a £7.50 stake. Some of the winnings, he revealed, went on a black greyhound (bought in pitch darkness after a long night at the pub) which went on to win 26 of its 70 races….
It was a funny old week. Running up to one of the most open and potentially exciting Derbies in years, the publicity machines were giving it full throttle. Frankie, for example, went on Loose Women to reveals that he ‘manscapes’ (no, I don’t know what it means either) and likes his eggs hard-boiled. The headlines might have been dominated by the superpower battles between the Coolmore Crew (six runners trained in Ireland by Aidan O’Brien for ‘the lads’ John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith), Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin (three runners trained in England by Saeed bin Suroor) and the Gosden Five (the quintet trained at Newmarket for five different owners by England’s top trainer John Gosden). The focus could even have been on whether Cracksman and Eminent, the two entrants sired by Frankel (who never ran in the Derby), would prove capable of challenging the five sired by the great and already proven Galileo. Instead, the headlines were dominated for days by the saga of Diore Lia a no-hope filly entered for the race by owner-breeder Richard Aylward, who hoped to generate publicity and funds for Great Ormond Street Hospital. The horse’s original trainer, not believing her to be worthy of participation, asked him to take her away. When Aylward then booked to ride the filly a 7lb-claiming apprentice Gina Mangan, who had ridden only a single winner and never been round Epsom, many professionals objected that she would prove a safety risk. In a display of foot-hopping that qualified it for instant transfer to the Theresa May election campaign, the British Horseracing Authority initially said that there was nothing to stop her riding. Then, as the furore continued, it found an obscure rule to bar her. An angry Aylward then booked a more experienced male apprentice and finally pulled out Diore Lia on the morning of the race with a muscle injury.
The BHA’s revised decision was the right one. With its undulations and camber Epsom is a fiendishly tricky course. The big field included more inexperienced horses than most years and an overawed rider might have proved a danger. If Mr Aylward wanted to boost Great Ormond Street funds, he could have given it the equivalent of the entry fees and entered Diore Lia in a more appropriate contest.
But then what happened? In a thrilling finish the 40–1 Wings Of Eagles flew past his rivals in the last few strides to win yet another Derby for Aidan O’Brien. And he was ridden by? No, not Ryan Moore or Seamie Heffernan or O’Brien’s son Donnacha or daughter Ana but by one Padraig Beggy. Padraig who? The Padraig Beggy who is a valued work rider at Coolmore, rescuing his career after a year’s suspension for cocaine use, but who, at the age of 31, had been given just eight race rides in the year by his employers. Afterwards Aidan called him ‘world class’ but Beggy’s Derby mount was only his second ride in Britain in five years and he had never ridden at Epsom before. On Derby day this year, irony was certainly a winner.
On the Coolmore versus Godolphin front, Sheikh Mohammed will have to go on waiting for a Derby winner in his own blue silks while Aidan O’Brien sent out four of the first seven. On the Frankel/Galileo question, things were more intriguing: of Frankel’s two sons, Cracksman finished third and Eminent fourth. John Gosden had wanted to get one more race into Cracksman before the Derby, but when the going went soft at York he pulled him out of the Dante trial rather than give him a hard day so close to Epsom. As a result, Cracksman was not quite streetwise enough on Derby day but Gosden, significantly, will be happy to stage a rematch. Incidentally, even Coolmore are not omniscient. Wings Of Eagles was sired by Derby winner Pour Moi. Disappointed by his results in breeding Flat-racers as a sire, they recently halved his fee to £10,000 and started rebranding him as a sire of jumpers! Racing can make a fool of anybody.