Only racing would castigate a man as too reliable; only racing, equally, would redeem him in such capricious fashion. Steve Drowne went to Royal Ascot last week still smarting after being replaced on Clowance in the Oaks, less than a fortnight previously. And the horse most likely to restore his morale and standing, Sakhee's Secret, proceeded to finish 17th of 17 in the last Group One of the week, the Golden Jubilee Stakes on Saturday. In the meantime, however, Drowne had ridden three winners, a feat surpassed only by Johnny Murtagh. They started at 100-1, 28-1 and 12-1 respectively; only one of Murtagh's winners, in contrast, was bigger than 7-4.
At 36, Drowne has been around long enough to be reconciled to the chicken-and-egg impasse. The best rides tend to go to jockeys already associated with the best horses. True, it did not prove such a hardship to see Frankie Dettori ride Clowance at Epsom, where they were beaten nearly 10 lengths – not, certainly, compared with the bitter day, five years previously, when he was "jocked off" Zafeen before he won the St James's Palace Stakes.
"But by the end of that week I'd won the Albany and the Windsor Castle Stakes," Drowne said yesterday. "That's what racing is like. Something like that, I wouldn't say you ever get used to it. It still guts you. But you do learn how to deal with it better.
"Everyone has been saying: 'Well done at Ascot, that must make up for Clowance.' But that was just a minor irritation, really. If she had won, yes, it would still be an open wound. In hindsight, it would make more sense to me if people were to say those three winners made up for Sakhee's Secret. Because I don't think I've ever had so much faith in a horse. That did shake me, the way he ran."
The colt's trainer, Hughie Morrison, attributes the performance to rain on watered ground, describing the turf away from the stands rail as "a skating rink". Certainly Drowne soon knew the game was up, and did not give Sakhee's Secret a hard race. "Even after a couple of furlongs I could tell that it was not going to be his day," he said. "It was loose on top, and I imagine the fact that he lost a shoe compounded the problem.
"But I haven't lost faith in him. In a way, it would have been worse if he had finished fifth, because you might be left wondering if that was as good as he was. But I still think he's as good as I've sat on."
Assuming conditions are suitably fast, Sakhee's Secret will defend the Darley July Cup at Newmarket. His task has been simplified, moreover, by news yesterday that the crack Australian sprinter Takeover Target has a tendon problem and will be heading home to recuperate.
In the meantime Drowne has ample succour in his other Ascot memories. "At the start of the week Sakhee's Secret was the only one I thought had a big chance," he admitted. "And just to have one winner would have been fantastic. So for him to finish stone last could only be an anti-climax. But it shows that you never know with racing. I was just hoping that Flashmans Papers would run a nice race, and then he wins at 100-1. But he proved it was no fluke in the Norfolk – he just flattened out there, maybe because of his effort two days earlier, but still finished fourth."
Drowne's other winners were shared with his two chief patrons: Supaseus for Morrison, and Fifteen Love for Roger Charlton. "We had been beginning to wonder if Fifteen Love was a bit of a monkey," he said. "But it turns out that fast ground is very important to him. He's such a good mover, and after missing the kick he did well to get up and beat those on the other side.
"Supaseus managed to get things his own way, and enjoyed himself in front. Once they left us alone to the three pole, I knew they would struggle to get to us, because he'd be strong up the hill."
Note that Supaseus managed "to get his own way" – not his rider. Other jockeys might have bragged about controlling the pace, but that is Drowne for you. A family man now, with twin baby daughters, he may not have particular flair, but suspects that riders with more flair make more mistakes. A reliable rider, by definition, will be the same in the Oaks as a Brighton seller. "Exactly," he said. "Look, it's the owner's horse, the owner's money. It's up to him. In a way it's easier for me if I know I haven't done anything wrong and still lose the ride, than if I had messed things up. I'd like to think that's the way people will think of me – as someone dependable on the big day."
Nap: Packers Hill
NB: Sinbad The Sailor