Racing: Dettori takes Snow Ridge to conquer Everest

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The Independent Online

It was 6.06 yesterday morning as the Godolphin Classic beasts first stepped on to the old turf of Newmarket's Trial Ground gallop. Like all good fleet, fighting machines, they soon swept by out of a low sun.

It was 6.06 yesterday morning as the Godolphin Classic beasts first stepped on to the old turf of Newmarket's Trial Ground gallop. Like all good fleet, fighting machines, they soon swept by out of a low sun.

Sheikh Mohammed, aboard his grey endurance hack, liked what he saw. He liked Snow Ridge, Punctilious and Sundrop. "We will be there [Epsom] with a big fight," he told the minions on the ground. Then, like all good horsemen, he rode off into the distance.

The prospect of Dubai's crown prince departing his sport is less easily to visualise. He remains emotionally captured by racing. "I was born on a horse," he said. "I love being around the horse. He can feel you and he can understand you. We learn a lot from animals during our life."

Sheikh Mohammed hopes most that when he reads Snow Ridge's next report, it will discuss his success in the Derby, a week on Saturday. The Blue Riband is the only domestic Classic without the Godolphin blue on it. Lammtarra technically did it for the team in 1995, but he ran in the livery of Sheikh Mohammed's nephew, Saeed Maktoum Al Maktoum. Now it is down to Snow Ridge to plant a stake in the ground.

"We will win it," the Sheikh said. "Just to see your horse run well in the race is a pleasure. You get 20,000 yearlings that want to win the Derby. It is a big race and we are there with a big fight. This is a very kind horse when you go in the box. But, when he runs, he's a competitor."

Yet there are reservations about Snow Ridge. He is not Godolphin's best prospect to run in the Derby since Lammtarra. Cape Verdi (1998) and Dubai Millennium the following year earn that nomination. Connections believe that 10 furlongs is the colt's best trip and they are already talking about the horse's four-year-old career.

There seemed to be greater enthusiasm about the Oaks fillies as Sheikh Mohammed later held court outside the splendid Godolphin Stables (until recently the historic Stanley House). The Hon F A Stanley, the 16th Earl of Derby, will perhaps not view the name change kindly through his binoculars from the clouds.

Great emphasis was placed on the fact that Frankie Dettori chose to ride Punctilious, the favourite of trainer Saeed Bin Suroor, in her gallop with Opera Comique. The big filly, the Musidora Stakes winner, came pounding past, her nosebanded head to one side, looking for all the world like Allez France. Sundrop was less conclusive in company with New South Wales.

Punctilious was cut to 7-2 from 5-1 with Coral following suggestions that Dettori would continue the partnership. His post-gallop inquisitors must have been more brutal than the press team which later cornered the Italian outside the Bedford Lodge Hotel on the Bury Road.

Dettori, on his first morning back after breaking a finger at Goodwood, said he had no idea which of the fillies he would ride. He was more purposeful about his own attitude to a sport which was beginning to chew him around last year. Word was that his application had gone.

"I've been a bit easy the last few years, and it was time to come back," Dettori said. "A few people upset me last year and I just wanted to prove them wrong. I had a good end to the season and I just carried on from that. I'm enjoying my racing. It's the only thing I'm good at."

Now that Dettori has answered the commitment question, he must tackle one of the few big races to have eluded him. He needs the Blue Riband. "I've ridden some great champions in the Derby, but it didn't take Einstein to work out that Dubai Millennium wouldn't stay a mile and a half. Cape Verdi, a filly against the colts, she had a mountain to climb too," he said. "This is the first serious live contender that I've had. Snow Ridge looks a serious chance.

"The mountain is getting bigger and bigger every year. I don't think Everest is big enough. I feel it more than any other race in the world. The Derby is unique. I'm beginning to feel the nerves now when I go to bed. I'm already thinking of the race. It's important for me because it would complete my career's ambition. It would fulfil my dreams. That would be the last piece in the puzzle for my career as a jockey."

DERBY (Epsom, 5 June), Coral: 9-4 Yeats, 100-30 Snow Ridge, 4-1 North Light, 10-1 American Post, 12-1 Salford City, 14-1 Rule Of Law, Let The Lion Roar, Percussionist, 16-1 Meath, 25-1 Cairdeas, 33-1 others.

OAKS (Epsom, 4 June), Coral: 9-4 Sundrop, 7-2 (from 5-1) Punctilious, 5-1 Ouija Board, 6-1 All Too Beautiful, 12-1 Baraka, Hathrah, 16-1 Necklace, Alexander Goldrun, 25-1 Menhoubah, 33-1 others.