We’re well into Derby week now and it’s fair to say the Classic picture is as muddled as the weather forecast.
The bookies haven’t the foggiest who ought to be favourite, with the underwhelming US Army Ranger and the supplemented Wings Of Desire disputing favouritism.
Most of my fancies have – almost inevitably – been ruled out, and with more rain forecast between now and Saturday afternoon it’s unlikely that any market leader is likely to shorten drastically.
I was musing over Tesio’s assertion that the Derby is the cornerstone of the entire breeding game. I’m not sure I agree, in truth. Galileo is possibly the pre-eminent stallion of our time – having won the 2001 Derby, among others – but the need for speed in the blueblood stock was brought to bear in Hugo Palmer’s decision for his 2000 Guineas winner, Galileo Gold, not to shoot for Epsom glory but to stick to the mile division.
To my non-breeding eye, this is a desperate shame and it is why the likes of Sea The Stars (who won both the Guineas and the Derby) will always resonate more loudly with me than those of the Classic generation who stuck to a mile including, dare I say it, Frankel.
Returning to this weekend’s field, we have news threads aplenty with a resurgent Sir Michael Stoute saddling Ulysses, the antepost gamble of the past week or so, and the return of the mercurial Kieren Fallon.
Aidan O’Brien, as predicted, is bringing all but the stable cat over for the race with a multi-horse assault, but my pin has finally come to stop on the 20/1 chance Harzand, who could run into a place for the supremely talented Dermot Weld.
I’ve not been lucky in recent years with Weld’s Epsom missiles but the rain will be in his favour and the trainer is quietly confident we will see a big run. His price is far too big.
Over the Bank Holiday weekend, I went to visit my parents in the badlands of Bolton and invited them to Royal Ascot (they’ll be making their racing debut at said meeting) and both were excited at the prospect of seeing the Queen.
With Her Majesty attending Epsom this Saturday for the Derby, followed by her unswerving devotion to the full five days of the Royal meeting later this month, I can’t help but feel we who love our sport are unfathomably fortunate to have royal patronage.
Even beyond sport, Queen Elizabeth’s love of horses is evident at almost every turn, from her riding out in Windsor to her passion for polo and of course thoroughbred racing. It worries me that such a commitment might not be shared to its fullest measure by her younger family members, and this week is a timely reminder that we owe much of the exposure our sport enjoys to the support of the reigning monarch.
The Racing Post carried a picture of the Japanese sensation, A Shin Hikari, winning one of the early season highlights at a canter in France. The superstar horse is now a short price favourite for the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at the Royal meeting.
The picture was remarkable not only for the winning distance that the horse had triumphed by, but for the depressingly small crowd at the races. Indeed, the talented Tom Kerr, Racing Post columnist, was moved to ask why it is that the French don’t go racing when their racecourses are so pleasant and the racing of such high quality.
Well, the answer is simple, isn’t it? No betting! There are no bookies on the tracks in France (just the soulless PMU counters), no betting, no noise, no spivs, no roaring, no atmosphere, no colour. And, as such, nobody goes for the entertainment value.
Now I’m not for one moment suggesting that the game should revolve around bookies, but I will argue till my last breath that bookies make racing a richer sport. Whether or not the purists like it, racing without betting is — in the main — jolly dull.
It’s how many of us arrived at the sport, through our grandparents on Grand National Day betting with matchsticks and trying to work out the arithmetic of the stakes and the odds and the each-way terms. Let’s not be snobbish. Even if we don’t use them on course, let’s not force the bookies off course, lest we be left with a terrifically funded sport on beautiful tracks and not a soul interested in attending.