Timing, they say, is everything in life and here yesterday it propelled three jockeys, present and absent, to the centre of affairs. For Jamie Spencer, it was perfect as he swept from last to first on the high-class four-year-old David Junior to take the 109th Eclipse Stakes. For Christophe Soumillon, it was fairly non-existent as he put the favourite Ouija Board in all sorts of trouble before her fifth-place finish. And in Kieren Fallon's case, it was slightly unfortunate. The first four pages of the racecard contained as many photos of the beleaguered six-times champion in his role as hero of the showpiece last year.
At the end of a nightmare week for the sport, the focus was rightly, and with some relief, on the track, where David Junior and Ouija Board squared up for a rematch. In the Prince of Wales's Stakes last month, the mare was the victrix with the colt the victim of circumstance; yesterday it was role-reversal.
In part, David Junior owes his success in the great midsummer all-aged contest to the acquisition of a pacemaker, for he was massively inconvenienced by lack of a true gallop at Royal Ascot. During the week his owner David Sullivan, millionaire business and football entrepreneur, bought the smart Royal Alchemist to fulfil the hare role, as shrewd a piece of business as the sale of Emile Heskey from his Birmingham City to Wigan for £5.5 million.
Royal Alchemist, with Michael Tebbutt aboard, set a strong, even pace, allowing Spencer to settle David Junior at the back of the nine-strong field, a position he still occupied as the runners headed up the long, testing straight.
Spencer held his nerve until inside the final two furlongs of the 10, but once he asked the response was immediate. David Junior quickened past his rivals, hit the front inside the final 200 yards and strode clear for a length-and-half success. Notnowcato, Blue Monday and Aussie Rules followed him in more or less in line abreast.
"This fella is a little rocket," said Spencer, "but well done to the owners for having the guts to buy the pacemaker and for Michael for the lovely gallop. It made my job so easy. He picked up so quick, and even idled when he got to the front. Ascot was deflating for all of us, but he's back where he belongs today."
Winning trainer Brian Meehan admitted to being less calm than his jockey as events unfolded. "Last in a Group One race at the turn in is perhaps not the easiest thing to watch," he said, "but I'm not going to interfere. I wouldn't start telling my builder how to build or my doctor how to operate and I'm not going to tell the champion jockey."
Yesterday was the fourth time in succession Spencer had ridden David Junior and for Meehan that continuity has been all-important. "He's done a marvellous job," he said. "He knows him well and they have built up a relationship."
For Ed Dunlop, Ouija Board's trainer, his remarks were a case of "I wish". Yesterday, something of a day for famous Belgians, was the first time Soumillon had sat on Ouija Board and he was her fourth rider in five races, after Fallon, Frankie Dettori and Olivier Peslier. Having sat off the pace, the Brussels-born rider found all sorts of trouble as he tried to progress in the straight, changing direction three times as he aimed for openings and eventually being hemmed in and buffeted by Alan Munro (who replaced Fallon's injured replacement Johnny Murtagh) on the Ballydoyle challenger Aussie Rules before stumbling.
"The others were keeping me in and I had a shit ride," said Soumillon. Dunlop might have agreed with the last three words, but tactfully said: "That's racing, I suppose. All a bit of a waste of time, but we fight another day."
Meehan spoke for many with his view of the gladiators on the track. "These horses, Ouija Board and ours, are the ambassadors racing needs right now and it was great to see both of them turn up today to fight."
Fallon, banned by the British authorities in the wake of his being arrested and charged on Monday in relation to the on-going police investigation into race-fixing, will have an appeal against the penalty heard on Wednesday. He still has licence to ride in Ireland, France and elsewhere, and this afternoon will partner Ivan Denisovich for his retaining Aidan O'Brien stable in a top-level contest at Chantilly.
If the betting market is a guide, he will fail in his appeal, though, and be conducting his day-to-day trade in Ireland for the rest of the year. Yesterday he was backed from 16-1 to 13-2 for the Irish jockeys' championship, a race in which he currently trails Murtagh 46 to 15.
Bets of the day
Speedy looking Irish raider Free Roses (Ayr 4.30) should be capable of progressing from an easy maiden victory.
Ruby Rubble (2.45) is well-drawn and may be suited by the step up in trip after a creditable seasonal debut.