The Knavesmire was awash with Frankie fever last week as Dettori rode the winner of both key trials, with So Mi Dar triumphant in the Musidora and Wings Of Desire victorious in the Dante.
News has just broken that So Mi Dar will now miss the Oaks – very sadly – as trainer John Gosden informed us that she was lame. What a blow this is for those of us who had hoped Minding would be subjected to a genuine test rather than a lap of honour in the fillies’ middle distance Classic.
So Mi Dar will now be trained for the Irish Oaks and, for fear of upsetting non-traditionalists, it allows me to vent my spleen about our own Derby and Oaks. I’ll allow sponsors Investec their rightful dues, but it is not the Epsom Derby, nor it is the English Derby. It is The Derby!
Just as I sulk about the various parochial Grand Nationals that serve only to slice away at the only real Grand National — the Liverpool race — I bristle when racing folk feel the need to preface the Derby and the Oaks with needless geographical clarifications. Rant over!
I’ll take a break from the widespread Derby narrative this week, but not before I reflect on last week’s spray and pray column where I somehow managed not to mention the now likely Classic favourite, The Gurkha. Those of us who watched (on TV, sadly) the Ballydoyle colt power ahead in the French 2000 Guineas could hardly have been more impressed. He’s another one likely to go for the big one next month and the bumper field we were anticipating last week could be bumped up by yet another star contender. Let’s hope so.
At the time of writing, Newcastle is preparing for its historic first meeting on the newly laid all-weather surface on Tyneside.
Almost inevitably and quite understandably, the move to all-weather has fired extreme differences of opinion. Rarely one to sit on the fence, I confess I am leaning towards the camp of Richard Fahey, who is a fan of the switch. A glance at the fields on Tuesday, May 17, revealed healthy, competitive fare, allowing much more of the horse population some fresh opportunities to race and the nation’s punters — who are all too often overlooked in discussions — a decent lead into attractive betting markets.
I can almost hear the traditionalists moan. But I simply don’t subscribe to those who scoff at the all-weather as some kind of poor relation. Sure, it looks a bit different, but it has a role to play and the absence of a decent track in the north of England has been an anomaly that has required correction for some time.
Yes, I sympathise with those connections who lament the loss of a rattling good turf track, but it’s a trade and it’s a trade I think is worthy of a deal. Sure, if it quickly turns to uncompetitive dross, I will lose interest and might even change my mind, but I welcome the arrival of all-weather to the North of England and wish all involved in the Newcastle project every success in a world where change — however ugly and unpalatable at first — is necessary and ever present.
I was lucky enough to spend last Thursday evening in the House of Parliament at a charity dinner hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Racing & Bloodstock. Some great and a few good people were there along with bookies, TV executives and MPs, all of us gossiping and drinking wildly.
Philip Davies, MP, would be the first to acknowledge he divides opinion within the betting and racing industries, but this doesn’t seem to get him down. I asked him what his Conservative party leader, David Cameron, makes of him?
Expecting him to confirm my suspicion that the PM views Davies as be a permanent stone in his shoe given the Shipley MP’s propensity to vote against his own government at most given opportunities, I was more than a little surprised when Davies said that the PM is rather fond of him.
“I was chatting with him in the tea room not so long ago. He told me that his late father would have approved of me and my betting. Apparently Cameron senior loved the horses and loved having a bet. I wish a few more of my fellow members had a flutter then they’d be able to contribute more knowledgeably about important issues in racing and betting.”
I often find myself arguing with Davies, who loves a heated discussion, but on this at least, I was in full agreement.