The Derby: Sly and Tregoning spike the big guns

Two small operations have a real tilt at the sport's major players in a week to savour

Pam Sly, current first lady of the Turf, was having her first glimpse, ever, of the idiosyncrasies of Epsom Downs. She could not quite believe the contours that her filly, Speciosa, will have to negotiate in the Oaks on Friday. "Quite awesome," declared the trainer, who had arrived by helicopter from her small yard in the Fens near Peterborough.

Yet in the year in which she became the first English woman officially to train the winner of a British Classic, the 1,000 Guineas, who would deny her the completion of a remarkable double in the Oaks with a filly which cost 30,000 guineas, a Sheikh's loose change?

"I don't ride her out myself [Sly, 62, punctured a lung and broke five ribs in a gallops fall last December] but they tell me my filly's quite well balanced. I'm just hoping she'll handle this OK. The pedigree on her mother's side suggests she should stay a mile and a quarter. The last two furlongs are a stab in the dark."

This was the horse for whichSly was advising her co-owners, her son Michael and Dr Tom Davies, to accept "obscene" offers of up to $1.1 million (£600,000) last autumn. They decided instead to "live the dream". They are still living it.

"At that time, I put my business hat on, and said, 'You ought to take the money for your £10,000 investment. You'll make a serious amount of money'. But hopefully now we'll go through until the end of the season, anyway."

The bookmakers are taking no chances with a filly, which, as she was not originally entered for the Oaks, cost her owners £20,000 to supplement for the race. Speciosa, Latin for "Special One" - now where have we heard that expression before? - is around 5-1 co-second favourite for the race. "If she was trained by Sir Michael Stoute, she'd probably be odds-on," was the wry response of a woman who almost takes pride in her unfashionable status.

Though she has had interest from prospective owners in the wake of her Guineas success, she has no intention of expanding her stables. "I've had one or two people on to me, but I won't be taking on many more horses. I don't have the room. I only take 25," she says, adding: "It's certainly been an amazing few months for somebody like me."

There is no doubt it has been the year of the cheap purchase. Take Marcus Tregoning's 2,000 Guineas runner-up Sir Percy, currently a best-priced 10-1 for Saturday's Derby. The original deadline for entries was 18 months ago, before any of the participants had even set hoof on a racecourse. There were 639 of them, bloodstock costing many millions. How ironic it would be if the Blue Riband of the Turf was won by a colt which cost 16,000 guineas.

"I don't buy that many horses," says Tregoning, formerly the assistant to the late Major Dick Hern. "I'm lucky. I get a lot of home-breds as I train a big string of horses for the Maktoum family. I was just buying on spec for new owners who might come to the yard when I saw this fellow.

"I thought I might be brave and go to 50,000, which is too much money for me really, out of my own pocket, but I thought I may have to for this horse.

"I was absolutely staggered when I got him for 16,000 guineas, I thought there must be something very wrong."

He adds: "That's no price for a horse sired by a Classic winner [the 1996 2,000 Guineas victor, Mark Of Esteem] out of a Group-winning mare [Percy's Lass]. He was a super buy. I've been training eight years and I haven't had a Classic winner yet. Some people never get one, and I was lucky enough to get a second [place]. But we were beaten by a superstar [Aidan O'Brien's George Washington], probably, and that was no disgrace. He's a lovely horse; one of the best I've had."

And a reminder that acquiring high-class bloodstock need not necessarily cost mega-money? "It proves that everyone's in there with a fighting chance," he says.

It's that time when all trainers, all owners, persuade themselves that their Derby or Oaks-bound contender will relish the going, will see out the stamina examination, and will appreciate the gradients and bends. Though Sir Percy pulled a back muscle in the Newmarket race, his trainer expects him to be fit for Saturday.

Tregoning, who has had only two previous Derby runners - Tholjanah (10th in 2002) and Elshadi (13th two years ago) - is convinced that his charge possesses the temperament, and the combination of speed and stamina, to do himself justice. "There's a good chance he'll stay. The mare's by Blakeney, and she got a mile and a half."

We are standing by the winner's enclosure at Epsom. Just about the same place where Tregoning watched Hern's mighty Nashwan return after his 1989 Derby triumph. Tregoning claims there are similarities between Nashwan and Sir Percy. "Nashwan was a supreme athlete," he said. "I've never seen a horse move as well as him. Wonderful, rather like a panther. In fact, the closest I've seen to his movement is this horse [Sir Percy]. It may sound as though I'm looking at the horse through rose-tinted spectacles, but he does have a wonderful action."

For the moment, at least, he, like Pam Sly, can look forward to a day which starts with myriad hopes - and forget about the fact that, inevitably, it will end with a hundred excuses.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker