The clouds that soaked the Curragh late last week and ruled Grandera out of the Irish Derby at the eleventh hour turned out to be, as far as the colt's trainer, James Fanshawe, is concerned, of the silver lining variety. Although, on the day, the ground in Ireland rode much faster than the official yielding and would have suited Grandera just fine, Fanshawe is quite relieved that he erred on the side of caution and diverted his young stable star to Saturday's Eclipse Stakes.
"The way Galileo won, I think luck was on our side not being there," he said. "Mind you, it's hardly an easy option this weekend either, a Group One race with a bunch of Group One winners in the field. But they are probably just ordinary top-class horses, not superhorses."
Grandera's participation in the 104th renewal of the first middle-distance confrontation of the generations in this country will, like that of a few of his potential rivals, be dependent on the weather. He, Medicean and Endless Hall are top-of-the-ground types, whereas the more it rains for Holding Court the better.
Fanshawe will be taking Grandera to Sandown with more than hope but not quite absolute confidence, much as he felt when he loaded the longshot Environment Friend into the horsebox for the journey from Newmarket 10 years ago. The grey came in at 28-1 to give his trainer his first Group One winner in only his second year with a licence and set him on the road to a current full house of 80 at his thriving Pegasus Stables.
"It was thrilling, but it was also a relief," Fanshawe recalls. "Not just to get a Group One on the scoreboard but to confirm our judgement of his ability. After winning the Dante he had run a stinker in the Derby. But he had worked very well the week before the Eclipse so it wasn't a total surprise."
Though he has won only his maiden, Grandera earned his place among the elite with his cracking third place in last month's Prix du Jockey-Club, finishing like a train after a troubled passage and beaten only half a length and a short-head by Anabaa Blue and Chichicastenango. The winner is bound for the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the runner-up has since won the Grand Prix de Paris.
"He always looked as if he had a lot of class," Fanshawe said. "He was rather weak as a two-year-old and anything he did then – like his second in a Group Three at Newmarket – was going to be a bonus.
"He didn't do well in the bad weather in the spring and had his first bit of work only a week before the Dee Stakes at Chester in May. We ran him there to see if he'd act round Epsom, but he rapped a joint and Michael [Hills, his regular rider] said definitely not the Derby as he's got such a long action.
"It was a big step up to go to Chantilly, but he's improved a lot since Chester. He didn't get much of a run but he has come on a ton since then and it was good to see the Chantilly second come out and win a Group One. He's growing up in every way, physically stronger and mentally more together. He's not a sweet person though, he'd bite you, he's quite mean.
"With the various pacemakers, the Eclipse should be run at a good pace and a fast-run stiff 10 furlongs will suit us. He may have won only once, but he was unlucky in France and not beaten far so on that basis we're entitled to have a go."
Grandera, like so many of Fanshawe's good horses, did not cost a sheikh's ransom – Arctic Owl, for instance, was 10,000 guineas, Bold Gait 3,000, Unblest 28,000. But it needed a tweak of fate for him to secure the son of Grand Lodge. When the chestnut appeared in the sales ring at Goffs, in Co Kildare, he was footsore, having just torn a shoe off, which put off prospective purchasers and he was bought in by his vendor for a mere 30,000 guineas. "I had picked him out," said Fanshawe, "but I had assumed I wouldn't be able to afford him and as he was one of the last lots of the day I had broken my own rule of not staying to watch until the last one on my list.
"The next day I couldn't believe how little he'd made and thought that whoever had bought him had stolen him. It was only when I talked to the agent involved that I realised the situation and was able to buy him in a private deal."
It is perhaps appropriate that one of the colt's Anglo-American partnership of owners, the retired businessman Roger Shelton, used to be involved in the firm that makes Doc Martens. Win or lose on Saturday, Grandera, and his trainer, are in there kicking.Reuse content