There will be a lot of carbon gasses expended before 29 June on the subject of whether the best horse won on the Surrey Downs at the weekend. The prevailing thought seems to be that Willie Ryan on Benny The Dip pinched the race once he had rounded Tattenham Corner, while Pat Eddery left his challenge too late on Silver Patriarch. A few others still cling to the devalued belief that Entrepreneur, the beaten odds-on favourite, will return to prove himself Pegasus reincarnate.
"I think mine was an unlucky loser," John Dunlop, Silver Patriarch's trainer, said. "He couldn't hold his position and was plum last at the bottom of the hill, but he picked up and I thought I'd got him in the last 100 yards.''
Pat Eddery has collected the Derby three times, but he gets as much publicity about the ones he has lost. El Gran Senor in 1984 is the paradigm, but Saturday too will be depicted by some as another that got away. Silver Patriarch proved as slippery to guide as Dushyantor had last year, and old Pat must muse that he would get an easier ride at the Calgary Stampede than in the Derby these days. "He is a big, galloping horse who needs the track to suit," Eddery said. "I'm looking forward to Ireland because we'll get those conditions."
There were, however, no reports yesterday that a white flag was fluttering over Stanley House, the home of Saturday's winning trainer, John Gosden. "They can't say they were unlucky in the way the race was run," he said. "I thought Pat rode a good race because he broke well and had him handy. But then he didn't have the pace and Pat had to niggle him. Benny deserved to win because he quickened and took six lengths out of them.
"I think it will be easier for him on a flatter track. People say you can fiddle round Epsom but that's not possible. What kills horses in the Derby is the run from the gate to the top of the hill, and that means you've got to stay.
"Ours wasn't ridden defensively and the race showed he gets the trip. He was ridden like a dour stayer and the idea now is the Irish Derby. If he hadn't got the trip the plan had been the Grand Prix de Paris, which is a shame in one sense because that's a bloody nice place to have lunch."
The first, deceptive, impression was that Benny The Dip's tank was down to fumes inside the final furlong, but just as Silver Patriarch seemed about to sail past, the near-black colt changed his legs and lunged forward in a final act of defiance.
As the winner was led back he provided Gosden with a poignant moment. The trainer occupied the exact spot where his father, Towser, had watched Charlottown return the winner of the 1966 Derby. Towser had prepared the horse to become champion two-year-old, but by Epsom his training career was over, his body ravaged by illness. He died soon afterwards. "With Gordon Smyth he monitored the horse's work, but at the end of the day it's not the same when it's not in your own name," Gosden said. "From that point of view, I always felt the family was owed a Derby.
"I can see him now in that winners' circle. It must have been a very fulfilling but devoid moment for him. I would say to my old man, somewhere up there now, that we finally got it right."
John did not crack up, though, and there was also an emotional containment about Willie Ryan. The 32-year-old has, for long, been considered one of the weighing room's water carriers, but on this occasion his colleagues came close to bearing him as they acknowledged the success for one outside the cartel when it comes to big-race rides.
It was something of a relief that Ryan managed to orchestrate a compelling finale, as that climax did much to erase the deplorable performance of the odds-on favourite. Entrepreneur was like a pinball as he smacked bottoms with Silver Patriarch after 100 yards and bounced off just about every contestant. The colt's most tangible contribution was the sample he provided for a dope test.
Entrepreneur's connections were so sickened that they got out the brushwood yesterday and retreated, leaving no sign of tracks. Gosden was up at 5am to pat Mr Derby 1997 before setting off for Chantilly. "I went round with Frankie [Dettori] to see the horse and he's in great order, so much so that he ate up and then had a nip at us," he said.
"I knew he was on top of his game going into the Derby and that anything that went by him would know it had been in a race. But I was still expecting to be second or third. I thought Entrepreneur would blow us all away.
"I was surprised that he was in trouble as early as he was and I would imagine there was a little technical problem with him. If he had come looming up with two to run and not stayed you could understand it, but he was beaten too soon for it to be right.
"But they're not all going to be Nashwans, Nijinskys and Shergars and while you can argue that the great champion didn't arrive yesterday, more importantly, I think, the race went back to the people. It was a fabulous atmosphere with a great crowd." The Curragh should be the same.Reuse content