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.

general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before