The first race at York yesterday could almost have been the season in microcosm: Frankie Dettori and Saeed bin Suroor ganging up to defeat Kieren Fallon. Dettori went into the day seven ahead of the man whose title he is trying to wrest away, and immediately made it one more on his retaining stable's Maidanni at the expense of Fallon's mount, Aylmer Road, a close but comfortably held second.
It was the 102nd winner of the season for Bin Suroor, and his 50th in the two-year-old division for the Dubaian, who has never even made a half-century before in the 10 years he has held a licence in Britain. The difference this year is that he has had charge of his largest-ever string, including a full complement of juveniles, as Sheikh Moham-med has expanded the remit of his Godolphin operation. Maidanni was the 64th winner he supplied for Dettori.
Bin Suroor, 37 today, already has his fourth championship wrapped up; he became the first man to top the £4m prize-money barrier when Refuse To Bend ran third in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes 15 days ago. The intention is to keep the runners flowing through the final month of the season to help get his man home to his third title after a gap of nine years.
By the end of the afternoon Dettori had notched a treble and he remained 10 clear after both he and Fallon rode a winner at Wolverhampton last night. Ian Williams became the 49th trainer for whom he has scored this term when The Prince turned York's nine-furlong handicap into a rout to make it six out of seven for the season. The gelding, still upwardly mobile at the age of 10, has had his self-esteem boosted by competing in lowly company. "Running in claimers has given him so much confidence," said Williams, "He's enjoying his racing again."
Dettori had not ridden The Prince since finishing fifth on him in a Listed race on the same track four years ago. "He ran away with me going to the start then and again in the race," he said, "so I think I've been avoiding him since. But he was fine today and did it all for me." The Italian has cultivated a more lasting relationship with Jonny Ebeneezer, who caught Talbot Avenue - ridden by the hapless Fallon - in the final half-dozen strides of the afternoon's feature, the Coral Sprint Trophy.
Jonny Ebeneezer, useful two years ago, has scrambled back up off the scrapheap since joining trainer David Flood in June on a plater's mark of just 51. The five-year-old's rating since then has risen 45lb and yesterday's half-length victory, at 13-2, was the fourth of seven along the way in which he had his favourite jockey in the saddle. "I love this horse," reciprocated Dettori. "He is a bit quirky but has tremendous ability and I think he likes me, which is half the battle. David has done a tremendous job in keeping him in love with the game, which is the other half."
A sprinter of a different class, Somnus, swooped fast and late on the soft ground he enjoys to take the afternoon's Group One prize, the Prix de la Forêt, at Longchamp. It was the second win of the season in France for the Tim Easterby four-year-old, after the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville in August. Between times the gelding was touched off by inches in the Haydock sprint, and yesterday's effort under Mick Kinane, in which he beat local filly Denebola by three-quarters of a length, may be enough to secure him the divisional championship in a weak year. The other British raiders, Le Vie Dei Colori, Monsieur Bond, Pastoral Pursuits and Nayyir, finished third, fourth, fifth and sixth.
The rest of the Flat season will be enlivened by the tussle for the title, but this afternoon in Ireland there will be a significant reminder of the nascent jumps season with the reappearance of Beef Or Salmon, a horse who, if all remains well with him physically, could be one of the few who could take a shot at Best Mate. The Michael Hourigan-trained eight-year-old, whose talent has been compromised by back problems, will carry top-weight against eight rivals in the Munster National. Shortly afterwards at the Curragh, the high-class hurdler Solerina takes on 20 rivals on the Flat in the Irish Cesarewitch.