With just a week remaining until the greatest race on British turf, much of the build-up has been culpably diverted to a jockey now depending for a mount on the indulgence not only of the regulators, but also of trainers and owners. For even if Frankie Dettori duly regains his licence next week, the timetable would make it impossible for him to ride before the very eve of the Investec Derby.
Friday’s Epsom card, of course, features the Oaks. At the best of times, jockeys returning from injury or suspension find it takes a while to sharpen their tactical wits. Epsom is a notoriously difficult track, as Dettori showed in an uncharacteristically inept display on Blue Bunting when favourite for the Oaks two years ago. Originally scheduled to return from his six-month drugs suspension at the beginning of this week, Dettori had anticipated a dozen days’ race-riding to blow away mental and physical cobwebs. With his return still contingent on detail that seems unlikely ever to be specified, it will be very difficult for anyone to make any serious Epsom commitment even to a world-class jockey who has not raised a whip since last autumn.
Dettori might be well advised to start focusing primarily on Royal Ascot, itself just over a fortnight after Epsom, on a stage he has made his own in years past. After initially blustering about the British Horseracing Authority, which was always bound by reciprocal arrangements with the French, Dettori’s team eventually admitted to “a glitch” in one of the samples he gave in Paris last month. He is now back home, after completing a series of fresh tests there, and the French medical commission – which will reliably observe scrupulous confidentiality over the previous problem – is likely to consider the results early next week. The BHA, with Epsom in mind, has committed itself to accelerating Dettori’s licence once given due encouragement by France Galop.
Declarations for Oaks day are made on Wednesday and, with both big races set to be contested by small fields, it is hard to envisage trainers still lacking a jockey for a fancied mount at that stage. With Jim Crowley riding the favourite, Secret Gesture, Harry Dunlop had needed a new jockey for Roz but has asked Johnny Murtagh to take the ride. “Her run in the 1,000 Guineas has really brought her on,” Dunlop noted yesterday. “She is bred to stay and, having had to use a lot of energy over the mile at Newmarket, I hope the extra distance will enable her to get into a nice rhythm.”
The week begins in momentous fashion for Murtagh, whose hands-on role in his own yard has now been formally acknowledged by transfer of the licence from Tommy Carmody. Murtagh is duly listed as both trainer and jockey of Fort Knox, who has been purchased by Sheikh Mohammed since winning his trial last month, in the Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh today. This colt still needs to improve, but certainly remains entitled to do so.
Magician’s diversion here from Epsom, together with the availability of Ryan Moore after Telescope’s defection, makes it harder still to envisage Ballydoyle finding a Derby mount for Dettori. Impressive as he ultimately was at Chester, Magician looks very short at 2-1 for a colt taking a big step up in class – and down in trip. There is better value among his stablemates, with Flying The Flag having shaped well in France and George Vancouver (3.20) having looked rusty behind Dawn Approach at Newmarket. This would by no means be the first time a Ballydoyle colt has taken a big step forward from one Guineas to the next. The Derby favourite’s Newmarket form is more obviously represented by Van Der Neer, third that day, but perhaps his most meaningful ambassador is Trading Leather, a stablemate, who made a solid return at York last week.
Reckless Abandon, unbeaten in his first season, meanwhile resumes in the Betfred Temple Stakes at Haydock but it is always difficult for three-year-olds against older sprinters and Sole Power (3.50) sets the standard so long as conditions do not deteriorate. He won this in 2011, and was clear of the pack when beaten a neck last year.
CHRIS McGRATH’S NAP
Jamaican Bolt (2.55 York)
Sandy Lane (5.30 Haydock)