Robin Oakley

Fashion stakes

Fashion stakes

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An American Treasury official was commenting recently on Tony Blair’s efforts to get one item on the G8 agenda. ‘We said no over dinner,’ he declared. ‘We said no on the ride home. We said no on the front porch, and still he said, “Come to bed.”’ By the time you read this we will know whether Mr Blair’s persistence has paid on an international financing facility for poorer nations. But persistence clearly pays on the racetrack.

As an admirer of Terry Mills’s highly efficient stable, I am always delighted when the no-nonsense Epsom trainer gets his hands on a good one, as he has with the sprinter Resplendent Glory. Seeing Terry before the first at Sandown on Saturday I asked if Resplendent Glory would be able to cope with an unfavourable draw. ‘It’s not the draw he’s up against, it’s the other horses,’ said Terry, aware that he was stepping up Resplendent Glory from handicap company to a Group Three in the Laurent-Perrier Champagne Sprint Stakes. ‘This time we’re in a real race.’

Resplendent Glory showed tremendous speed, kicking clear three furlongs out. Then Lafi, winner of the Wokingham at Royal Ascot last year and clearly returning to his best, came after him. The two were locked together through the last furlong, but in a finish of bobbing heads Resplendent Glory got back up on the line. He is one of those precious horses with guts as well as gears and he never stopped responding to the urgings of jockey Shane Kelly.

As the short-head result of the photo finish was announced, I couldn’t resist punching the air, and looked up to see the beaming trainer doing precisely the same ten yards ahead of me. But his ‘Yeah’ was louder than mine. The Sandown success made it six victories out of seven starts for Resplendent Glory, who will now probably be given a break before coming back in the autumn for the French sprint championship, the Prix de l’Abbaye.

Terry’s son Robert, who was to have taken over the yard last year until falling severely ill, is now thankfully back in good form himself. He says that Resplendent Glory is even better with give in the ground, which you can usually count on in the Abbaye, so make a note of him now and watch for the early prices. The beaming Terry declared, ‘He’s a decent horse. Please God he’s a Group One. He’s such a battler. When they come upsides he takes them on.’

Lafi has now been made favourite for Goodwood’s Stewards Cup, but he returned with a nasty gash on his hind leg. His injury was sustained when Celtic Mill clipped his heels and tumbled, taking Frankie Dettori with him. Luckily, the shaken champion jockey sustained nothing worse than a broken collarbone, although, he concedes, that is enough to wreck his chances of retaining the championship this year.

Eclipse Day had been ruined already for Frankie when Godolphin’s Shamardal, winner of the French Derby, was injured and retired the day before his planned clash with the English Derby winner Motivator in the big race. It was that prospect, not the Ladies Day contests for the ‘best turned out’ females, I trust, which had given Sandown its first sell-out since the days of Desert Orchid. The horses, I have to say, looked much better. Most of the human forms on show varied between the grotesque and the tarty. Contestants seemed either to be wearing skirts so short that a decent puff of wind would have made it a lingerie contest or to be swathed in yards of material that could have been put to more effective use covering a decently loaded dining table.

As for the Eclipse itself, that sadly saw the overthrow of the previously unbeaten Motivator, who had been so impressive at Epsom. It was a risk bringing him back from 12 furlongs to ten, but such is the accent on speed in the breeding world these days that I suspect that was a cold-blooded commercial decision. Anyway, it misfired, thanks, I believe, to a Clive Bossom of a ride by Johnny Murtagh. Bossom was the unfortunately named Conservative whose name provoked Churchill to mutter, ‘Bossom? Bossom? That’s neither one thing nor the other,’ and you had to say exactly the same about Murtagh’s tactics, or lack of them. Johnny Murtagh is one of the best big-race jockeys alive, but at the moment there is something not quite clicking. On Motivator he went to the front too soon and then failed to dictate a proper pace, and as a result Motivator was swallowed up in the last 50 yards by the steadily improving Oratorio.

On a sweaty day, the three-year-old Oratorio was the calmest horse in the paddock while his elders, like Altieri from Italy, Diamond Green from France and Starcraft, from Australia via Luca Cumani, kicked, bucked and fretted away their chances in the preliminaries.

Oratorio, said trainer Aidan O’Brien, is fast enough at home to run in six-furlong races but has always been lazy on the racecourse. He is the only horse he knows, he says, who puts on weight by going racing. But, if you have a horse who needs to have its mind made up for it, then Kieren Fallon is your man, and, despite having had to scrub Oratorio’s ears off from early on in the race, he timed his effort with perfection to dethrone the unbeaten Derby winner. Persistence again. Now they are going to take Oratorio down in distance, too, running him over a mile in the Sussex Stakes. There’s just too much fashion on the racecourse.