Racing: 'If a Derby win can ever be described as easy then this one was it'

Click to follow

There were 14 horses in the Derby parade, 14 story lines, and only one horse would be good enough to snatch the happy ending. Passing by ninth, Motivator didn't seem to have a care in the world, and cantered down to the start under the gentle hands of Johnny Murtagh who had been cleared to ride the favourite only three days before the race after a successful appeal against suspension.

There were 14 horses in the Derby parade, 14 story lines, and only one horse would be good enough to snatch the happy ending. Passing by ninth, Motivator didn't seem to have a care in the world, and cantered down to the start under the gentle hands of Johnny Murtagh who had been cleared to ride the favourite only three days before the race after a successful appeal against suspension.

In the grandstand a majority of the 230 members of the Royal Ascot Racing Club, privileged, well-heeled owners of Motivator whose ranks include Lord Lloyd-Webber, Sir Clement Freud and the Leeds United chairman, Ken Bates, looked on anxiously. Having paid £6,000 each to be a part of an enterprise that will see Saturday's prize-money of £750,000 swallowed up by training fees, they were eager for a taste of glory.

Earlier in the proceedings I found myself in the company of casual racegoers, in the main pinstickers who were relying on information supplied by the daily prints and imparted by the former jumps jockey Steve Smith Eccles who was, as they say, singing for his supper. Long experience has taught that race riders are not the most reliable of witnesses but it was interesting to hear Smith Eccles make out a strong case for the Michael Bell-trained Motivator despite a few murmurs to the contrary.

Since the first two races were watched from a point overlooking Tattenham Corner it was impossible to determine whether a stiff breeze was having any appreciable effect on the going (the track had been well watered) but an old Epsom hand felt that it was getting firmer by the minute.

On the five-furlong stroll back to the grandstand, I quizzed several members of the public about their fancies. Leaving aside the outsiders, the popular choices were Gypsy King - mainly I deduced because Kieren Fallon was bidding for his third consecutive Derby, a feat achieved only by the great Steve Donoghue in the early part of the last century - and Frankie Dettori's mount, Godolphin's Dubawi.

Back on more familiar territory I put it to a racegoer of long standing that there wasn't an obvious hero in the field, not one immediately attractive to the public, which may have helped to explain why there were plenty of open spaces on what used to be a packed infield. He held the view that it was not a race to justify a serious bet, just one in which to have a modest interest.

All week, Bell had been living on his nerves, smoking more than usual, and it disturbed to hear the reprieved Murtagh say beforehand that he'd sit handy in the race. "I wasn't too sure, but I left it to him," Bell said. "He's the one who has won Derbys. Where he was he was never going to meet traffic problems."

Murtagh rates Motivator's performance better than those of his two previous victors. "If a Derby win can ever be described as easy then this one was it," he said, "much easier than my other two. He jumped from the stalls and as he has a lot of natural speed I was slightly concerned about the slowish pace through the first couple of furlongs.

"Coming down the hill I couldn't believe how easily I was going. I just concentrated on making sure he didn't spook at the crowd."

It was all over in a second. At the two-furlong marker Motivator was given a slap for just about the first time in his young life and took off as though the hounds of hell were at his heels. When Motivator hit the front the crowd in the grandstand gasped. Murtagh had a look behind - "a sneaky peek" - and could not believe how far clear he was. The horse ran home straight as an arrow, Murtagh raising one arm in triumph as they crossed the line.

Bell heaved a sigh of relief. The big question about Motivator was not form but temperament. Victory in the Dante Stakes had confirmed the potential of Montjeu's son but could he handle the excitement of Epsom on Derby day? All doubts were blown away by the victor's super-charged burst up the straight.

Down from the grandstand came the members of the Royal Ascot Racing Club, resplendent in their finery, all eager to share in the congratulations. "Excuse me, excuse me, I must get through," a woman pleaded, hanging on to her hat in the breeze. Backs were slapped, hands were shaken.

A toffs' triumph. But Bell is a popular trainer, affable and approachable. That he took on and defeated the big battalions is good for racing.

Comments