A scarcely believable 20 years ago this week Frankie Dettori rode his Magnificent Seven at Ascot, going through the entire card and — in an instant — rewriting the history books and inflicting on the poor bookies their darkest ever day.
Most racing fans know the details inside out: the horses, the £40 million losses incurred by the betting industry, the flying dismounts and the frenzy of media activity that followed.
As I write, I am travelling into London to join Dettori at the 20th-anniversary luncheon in London. It won’t be a dry affair in fashionable Mayfair, and guests have been advised to enjoy a solid breakfast.
Invited guests will include all the key racing press, Douglas Erskine-Crum who was the MD of Ascot at the time, John Hanmer who famously commentated on the last three races on the BBC after the late great Peter O’Sullevan had finished his shift and retired to the hospitality box, Ray Cochrane who rode against Dettori on that day and is now his agent and, as important as anyone else, Mary Bolton from Somerset.
Bolton was celebrating her wedding anniversary 20 years ago this week and had travelled up to London with her husband, John, to do a bit of shopping. John Bolton was packed off to the bookies to have a few quid on Mary’s horses while Bolton herself dusted down the credit card. Later on, the couple headed out into the West End where they enjoyed an entertaining if not entirely unusual evening.
The following morning, John Bolton decided to check the racing results and it was only then — and half a million quid later — that they realised their lives would never be the same again.
Racing celebrates the heroes, both equine and human, who steal the show. The Frankies and the Frankels, the Lesters and the Kautos, the O’Briens and the Al Thanis.
These guys sit atop a pyramid which is built on the mostly-losing fortunes of millions of punters who enjoy a flutter on the big guys’ fortunes.
Some folk are uncomfortable with racing’s relationship with betting, others seek to improve it, but only those who are blindingly out of touch will deny that it is the punters who make the biggest days and the biggest achievements all the more grounded and relevant.
We will raise a glass in a few hours to racing’s favourite Italian son, but I’ll insist we also raise a glass to John and Mary Bolton, too. They struck gold 20 years ago and deserve to be celebrated.
What a puzzling old weekend we’ve just witnessed on the Rowley Mile. Anticipation was sky high ahead of Lady Aurelia’s Cheveley Park bid, a Middle Park clash between Blue Point and Mehmas followed, of course, by the ferociously competitive Cambridgeshire where Third Time Lucky was favourite to land back to back rubbings.
Racing has a glorious habit of cocking a haughty snook at the script and ploughing instead its own path. And so it was the Lady Aurelia was mowed down by Brave Anna to hand Aidan O’Brien his first Cheveley Park (to my utter astonishment) before The Last Lion got up in the Middle Park to leave punters befuddled.
The Cambridgeshire went to Brian Meehan’s Spark Plug to give the trainer a huge prize and throw him back into the spotlight. Meehan is highly unlikely ever to be centre stage at a lunch in Mayfair; that’s not how he rolls. He is quiet and sometimes his thoughtfulness mistaken for sullenness. And, in all truth, he’s suffered a couple of fairly barren years as various misfortunes have combined to leave him out of the big picture.
Winning a big handicap won’t put the wheel back on the bike in an instant, of course, and I’m struggling to see where his next live Classic hopeful will come from, but it’s testament to Meehan that he’s still battling away to remind racing fans that he knows his eggs from his onions and can ready one for the big day. Spark Plug was well fancied: punters have long memories.
It’s the Arc, of course, this Sunday and the breaking news that La Cressoniere is an absentee has done little to cheer me up following the news last week that I will be confined to barracks for the weekend.
I’ll be watching on satellite channels only, too, which would depress me if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve long ago realised that racing has nothing sacred any more.
The race itself has left me a bit cold this year with Trials day revealing little to quicken the pulse, Dermot Weld on weather watch for Harzand and Fascinating Rock and only Postponed the standout performer now.
I’ve written before about Roger Varian’s superstar and let’s hope he wins, in the absence of any other live bets! I’m trying to convince my wife to recreate the Chantilly atmosphere at our Buckinghamshire home but she doesn’t share my enthusiasm for all things Arc.
I’ll smuggle in some Camembert and turn your hand to some pan-fried snails. If my cooking is anything like my tipping, this could well be my final column. Good luck!