COMMENTARY: Expect a shock in graveyard
Monday 18 August 1997
The form book, it must be said, tends to have the sense of the Jabberwocky on the Knavesmire in mid-August. Derby winners get beaten in the International, as do supposed certainties.
We should have known what was to come after the first running of the race on 15 August, 1972. Known then as the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup, the event appeared to have been devised as nothing more than a fly-past, with the great Brigadier Gerard at the head of the formation.
The mahogany bay named after Conan Doyle's exuberant hussar had, at that stage of his career, won all 15 of his races, establishing his versatility in collecting Group One races from six furlongs to a mile and a half. According to Timeform, Sea Bird II was the only horse modern man has seen fit to mention in his company.
Betting seemed a pointless exercise that day, but just to add a little colour to events the bookmakers put up Brigadier Gerard at 1-3. Against him were the two horses who had fought out that year's Derby. Roberto had by then recovered from the 12-stroke drum roll Lester Piggott had performed on his backside in the Blue Riband, but the jockey had switched to the Epsom runner-up, Rheingold.
Roberto's owner was John Galbreath, the owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team who had named his colt after the team's leading player, Roberto Clemente. When Piggott jumped ship Galbreath brought Braulio Baeza, a Panamaian, to the bridge. It was Baeza's audacious pacemaking that was later to be cited as the reason for the Brigadier's only defeat. Certainly the horse's connections could not accept it and Mrs Jean Hislop, in whose colours the great horse performed, ventured that Roberto must have been stung into action by a bee. Her beloved colt was beaten three lengths.
Since then the race has humbled other Derby winners. Snow Knight failed, followed by Grundy, who turned in his worst and last performance behind Dahlia in 1975. The enduring image remains of Grundy after his King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes victory over Bustino. After that destructive effort he looked like a discarded workhorse in the corner of a redundant field, his body motionless and his head hung low.
Troy did manage the double in 1979 and was the last Derby winner to follow up. In fact, the only Epsom winner who has taken in the race during a Classic campaign since then was Dr Devious, fourth to stablemate Rodrigo De Triano in 1992.
There must be deep-mine doubts then about Benny The Dip and Bosra Sham, even if the latter is allowed to take her chance by Henry Cecil. "Bosra Sham is fine this morning," the trainer reported yesterday. "She went out for two canters and she was jumping and kicking. So far everything is going well.
"If she runs it means she is 100 per cent. If there is any chance her setback has affected her she will not run. You can't go half-cock at these things and if there is any doubt she will not run."
The decision over Bijou D'Inde's participation will be kept private until declaration time. The colt's trainer, Mark Johnston, was in Switzerland yesterday, and his assistant, James Given, reported that no announcement would be made until the chestnut's owner, Stuart Morrison, had been consulted. The four-year-old has, apparently, been working well recently, which is a bit of a shame. Given the saga of the event, and the rest of his qualificiations, if Bijou D'Inde had been training like a pig he would be a certainty.
INTERNATIONAL STAKES (York, tomorrow): William Hill: evens Bosra Sham, 9-4 Singspiel, 5-1 Benny The Dip, 6-1 Desert King, 33-1 Bijou D'Inde.
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