Dettori adds spice to opening exchanges

RACING: And they're off. Greg Wood looks forward to the Flat turf season which starts at Doncaster today
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All of the most famous and well-rewarded jockeys will be there when the Flat season starts at Doncaster this afternoon. Without them, you suspect, the campaign might start and few would notice because at this early stage, the people are more interesting than the horses.

The better colts and fillies of the Classic generation will not see a course for another three weeks at least. In 1997, though, the fortunes of the men on top should be a permanent thread throughout the season, indeed from its very first day, with every possibility that the jockeys' championship will develop into a serious contest for the first time in years.

It helps that the leading players have such well-defined personas that they could easily be Spice Girls. There is Lanfranco Dettori (Chirpy Jock) attempting to reclaim the title most people seem to assume is his already, Kieran Fallon (Rough but Reformed Jock), Richard Quinn (Quiet Jock) and of course Pat Eddery (Old Jock), who needs one more championship to move ahead of Lester Piggott in the all-time list. Dettori is a short favourite for the title with Irish bookmakers Paddy Power (their British counterparts are reluctant to offer prices).

Power bets: 4-9 Dettori, 4-1 Quinn, 7-1 Fallon, 14-1 bar, with Eddery all but written-off on 16-1. Those odds are the inevitable result of Fallon's appointment as stable jockey to Henry Cecil at Warren Place, where he will inherit any number of potentially top-class rides from the reigning champion.

Fallon will be a crucial factor as Cecil attempts to wrest the trainers' championship from Saeed bin Suroor and the Godolphin operation. The rivalry between the two (or more accurately, between Cecil and Sheikh Mohammed, Godolphin's founding father) was a welcome diversion last back-end, and the head-to-head between the world's most powerful owner and the man he used to employ seems sure to continue.

Bosra Sham and Lady Carla, both Classic winners last season, should be among Cecil's more mature money-earners, while Reams Of Verse and Sleepytime, both prominent in ante-post 1,000 Guineas betting, are names which will be close to the top of crib sheets.

Godolphin's team will not arrive in Britain until shortly before the Craven meeting at Newmarket next month, by which time names such as Moonlight Paradise (second favourite for the 1,000 Guineas) and Shamikh (12-1 for the 2,000 Guineas) should be a little more familiar.

The two-year-old class of 1996 also included Bahhare, the ante-post favourite for the first colts' Classic after winning all three of his starts for John Dunlop last season, and Peter Chapple-Hyam's Revoque, unbeaten in four races including the Grand Criterium at Longchamp, yet only true devotees (and those who have backed him) will recall the identity of the Dewhurst winner. In Command, trained by Barry Hills, is all but forgotten on the 20-1 mark.

Other fillies to look forward to include Pas De Reponse, Criquette Head's Cheveley Park winner, and Ryafan, whose trainer, John Gosden, may find his second Classic winner rather easier to come by now that he has claimed his long-awaited first, with Shantou in last year's St Leger. Do not forget, either, that the world's richest race, the Dubai World Cup on 29 March, is the anticipated starting-point for Helissio, one of the best Arc winners of recent years at Longchamp last October.

Finally, as we greet a new Flat season it is worth remembering that for a man who has been part of the turf for as long as most of us can remember, it will be a long goodbye. Peter O'Sullevan's final campaign behind the microphone will take in Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood and the Arc, but sadly not, on television at least, the Derby.

Jim McGrath, his obvious successor at the BBC, does an excellent job as the racecourse commentator on the big day at Epsom, but he will also have many more chances to do so. As the course authorities try to find a way to bring the crowds back to the Downs, they should perhaps consider hiring the Voice for one last outing around Tattenham Corner. If that doesn't put a few thousand on the gate, nothing will.