What a difference a day makes! All eyes were on Newmarket at the weekend as Aidan O’Brien launched his first (of many) blue-blooded assault on the English prizes in both of the Guineas. His odds-on favourite, Air Force Blue, left many punters feeling blue as it trailed in down the field in a race won by Frankie Dettori’s Gaileo Gold.
We will come onto Dettori shortly but the disappointment was etched large on the furrowed brow of O’Brien on Saturday evening following his colt’s flop. Here is a guy who takes life seriously. He is not without humour but his attention to detail is the stuff of legend, and he was stuck on 249 Group 1 winners heading into Guineas weekend.
Fast forward to Sunday and with the sun still beating down on an unusually warm and welcoming Rowley Mile, the day began with whispers that if Air Force Blue was vulnerable at odds-on, would the same be true of Minding, the so-called superstar filly in the Coolmore camp?
Readers will forgive me for referring back to my sign-off last week, but even I was getting a bit hot under the collar (it wasn’t that hot) as Minding trotted around the pre-parade ring.
In the end, her 1000 Guineas rout was utterly compelling. Under Ryan Moore, Minding never looked in doubt and even though we are barely into May we have the filly to follow firmly etched onto the page. O’Brien’s furrowed brow gave way to what passes for a smile from the reserved trainer and normal service had been resumed.
What next for Minding? Coolmore partner Michael Tabor appears to have poured cold water on the idea of a tilt at the Derby rather than a likely lap of honour in the Oaks. I wouldn’t be so definitive, and given that the all-powerful stable had the second and third home at Newmarket there are lots of horses and a limited number of bases. Let’s see how the next fortnight pans out as we take in Chester, Lingfield, the Derrinstown and York next week.
I’m not exactly rushing to back Minding for the Derby at fairly restrictive odds (with or without a run), but if the furrows return to the brow of O’Brien within the next fortnight, it has to be — as he himself might say — a “definite possible.”
Ask the man in the street (whoever the man in the street is supposed to be) to name five people in horse racing off the top of their head. Tony McCoy (retired) and ‘that noisy bloke with the sideburns who was on Big Brother’ (John McCririck, formerly of C4) are likely to make the list.
Then you might be greeted with a pause. Clare Balding? Yes, perhaps. Frankie Dettori. Absolutely! Whether we like it or not, Dettori has been the pre-eminent character in the sport — and most especially in the rarefied world of Flat racing — for two decades.
So his win on Galileo Gold on Saturday came at just the right moment for a code which often struggles to start with a firework display. Dettori is box-office in every single way: charming, vivacious, supremely talented in the saddle and instantly recognisable. He is head and shoulders above his rivals when it comes to recognisability.
We may not see him in the saddle for many years to come (he is nudging 50) but we must relish every second he secures in the spotlight. It is simply impossible not to smile — no matter how seasoned we may have become — when Dettori launches a flying dismount.
Galileo Gold was a double figure price on Saturday and yet the noise that greeted him as he returned to the Winners’ Enclosure was most un-Newmarket-like. Racegoers could have been forgiven for thinking they were welcoming a hot favourite trained by the late great Sir Henry Cecil. The cheers were for Dettori, by and large. What would we do without him?
I was glum last week for missing Punchestown and that glumness has returned as I write on the morning of Chester’s May meeting.
Of all the perks enjoyed by members of the press room, a week in the sunshine at Chester is right up there. It is not by any stretch the most taxing of weeks, and although there may be some informative trials in the Vase, Dee Stakes and the Oaks, it is largely known for the social side.
In recent years the weather has been lousy and Chester loses its lustre in the rain. Today, the sun is cracking the flags and while your correspondent is chained to his desk, his friends, rivals and contemporaries will be busily reassessing the cost of champagne on the Roodee. I can’t contain my envy.
It was seven extremely short years since Sea The Stars etched his place into my affections as the horse of a lifetime. This weekend at leafy Lingfield, his son, Across The Stars, lines up in the Lingfield Derby Trial. He is highly unlikely to be anywhere near as good as his sire, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Trained by Sir Michael Stoute who was back in the Winners’ Enclosure at Newmarket last weekend, Across The Stars is in the best possible hands. I’m willing to give him a chance this Saturday in a race that might cut up between now and then.