Golden Horn’s stunning victory in the Investec Derby on Saturday was much needed: the punters needed it, having suffered the pain of a 50/1 rank outsider (Qualify) winning the Oaks the previous day.
The Press needed it, as there was much talk in the Press Room beforehand about it being a substandard Classic renewal with a dearth of natural stories outside of Frankie’s second coming. Frankie Detorri, his jockey, needed it after a number of years of relative low-profile racing success and some scandals along the line. And most of all, racing needed it as a matter of urgency.
When Gleneagles won the Guineas last month, few observers truly believed that the sport had secured its pin-up poster boy for the summer. We needed a horse to set the pulse racing, and a story for the season to follow and propel us into the months ahead and all the way to Paris in Autumn. Golden Horn is that horse and for the first time this season the Flat season really came alive. We are likely to see him again next month at Sandown for the Eclipse Stakes and then back to York in August for the Juddmonte International Stakes. The season has a shape, a plan, a poster-boy, and a golden treasure at last.
Yesterday, the great and good of racing (and me) gathered at Scotts restaurant in London to celebrate Claude Duval’s 70th birthday. His old editor Kelvin McKenzie was in booming form, and the BBC’s Cornelius Lysaght did a terrific job of keeping proceedings ticking along with a series of unprintable stories. Training giants Paul Nichols and Nigel Twiston-Davies were joined from across the Irish Sea by Arthur Moore who brought greetings from the absent Sir Peter O’Sullevan who is already looking forward to Claude’s 80th. He will be 105 years young by then.
I was drawn next to JA McGrath, until recently the Aussie voice of BBC racing and journalist at the Daily Telegraph and “The Croc” won’t mind me saying that neither of us will remember too much about our taxi home yesterday.
We were both talking in Braille. Far more sensible and on my other side was a beaming William Derby, head honcho at York racecourse and one of the game’s good guys. William was understandably thrilled with the Derby result as it reinforced the Dante Stakes, at his course in May, as the leading Classic trial of its type. Golden Horn had beaten Jack Hobbs in the Dante, and they repeated the scene at Epsom. William is expecting one or both back in August. Little wonder he looked like the cat who got the cream as he prepares for the “house full” signs to go up on the Knavesmire for the rest of the season.
This time next week we’ll be at Royal Ascot for what is surely the crowning glory of the Summer season. Yes, Glorious Goodwood has a huge appeal and Newmarket’s July meeting is difficult not to enjoy, but Ascot’s unique combination of glamour, royalty and the very best Flat racing in the world sets it apart.
The Duke of Edinburgh is believed to be lukewarm about Ascot week, at best, whilst his wife loves it. How lucky we are to have a Monarch with such enthusiasm for the sport.
In terms of the horses, Ascot is all about the overseas invasion these days. It doesn’t seem that long since the Aussie sprinters were a novelty, but now they’re part of the furniture.
Later this week at Newmarket we have a Press Conference at the Jockey Club rooms which will follow track work featuring Brazen Beau, Shamal Wind, Wandjina, Criterion, Spielburg, Able Friend and California Chrome. Some of these names will be better known to racing fans than others, but they’re gathered from all over the world and anyone who chooses to miss the opening day of Ascot next week needs to be checked for a pulse. It will be off the charts.
Actually I DO remember one thing, and only one thing, about that taxi journey. “Able Friend is different class” slurred The Croc. “Nothing will touch him in the Queen Anne.” So there you have it. Able Friend is our tip (5/2) for the opening race on the opening day of Royal Ascot.
If it wins, I will take all the credit for managing to remember. If it gets beaten by French ace Solow (7/4 favourite) we can blame the slurring Aussie.