The stresses of the risk-management business, the cut and thrust of the boardroom and the high-rolling world of telephone-number money are one thing, the thrill of horseracing quite another. Dominic Burke is group chief executive of brand leader Jardine Lloyd Thompson, a company with 30 outposts around the globe, but nothing in his commercial life has prepared him for the thrill of what will happen tomorrow at Epsom. "I have 6,000 staff and I'm trying to run an international business," he said, "but I can't sleep."
The cause of Burke's excitement-induced insomnia is a filly named Miracle Seeker, one of 16 runners for the 230th Oaks. And he not only owns the daughter of Rainbow Quest, but has known her since she was minutes old. She will be the first product of his emerging Whitley Stud in Gloucestershire to run in a Classic.
But not the first to achieve honours at the highest level. Remarkably, her dam, Miracle, has already produced the Champion Hurdle hero Katchit who, by an extraordinary coincidence, won his Cheltenham crown on his young half-sister's third birthday.
Liverpool-born Burke acquired an interest in thoroughbreds from his father, who raced a few and bred a few in Ireland. He was a member of the York University Turf Club, alongside the likes of Cheltenham supremo Edward Gillespie. "A lot of my friends there ended up going into racing," he said. "I was the sad one who went into insurance."
Sad or not, Burke is the one with 10 broodmares, 150 acres and an Oaks runner. Four years ago he, wife Valda and family relocated from Cheshire to Whitley Stud, then in the process of being designed and built from scratch on horse-virgin land next to the Badminton estate.
The grey mare Miracle, a minor winner over a mile in France and the States, was one of the first arrivals. And in terms of genetic inheritance, Miracle Seeker need bow to none of the products of the major breeding operations she will face tomorrow. Her late sire is the best Classic stallion ever to have stood in Britain and her dam, though by unfashionable Ezzoud, is a member of one of the Aga Khan dynasties.
The Aga decided this branch of the family was surplus to his requirements in the early Nineties, disposing of Miracle's dam, Madiyla, at auction for just 7,400gns. Ten years ago her daughter Lethals Lady, by the poor stallion Rudimentary, was placed in the French Guineas and Coronation Stakes and now her grand-daughter is back at top table.
"I thought that Miracle was from the sort of potent bloodline that would – even if it had been a bit quiet – wake up with a bit of sire-power," said Burke. "That was the idea, anyway."
Offers have come in for both Miracle, now snowy white at the age of 12, and Miracle Seeker. All have been firmly refused. "I'm trying first and foremost to build families," said Burke. "That is the fascination for me. And although Miracle has produced a top-class hurdler, I always thought she was capable of breeding a top-flight Flat racer.
"She is a glorious mare to have around, with film-star quality. She's a great mum with a great attitude. And all her foals have one thing in common. They just want to please in every way."
Miracle Seeker will also be the first Classic contender from former jump jockey Clive Cox's upwardly mobile Lambourn training yard, and a first Classic mount for Adam Kirby, who rode her so well for her gutsy win in the Lingfield Oaks Trial. "She's earned her right to be there," said Burke, "and win or lose, the one thing I do know is that she'll give it her all."
Miracle Seeker is among the 33-1 outsiders for tomorrow's contest, for which there has not been a bigger field since Time Charter beat 20 rivals in 1982. The favourite, Lush Lashes, has been drawn in the middle of the line-up, in stall eight, but two other fancied Irish contenders, Chinese White and Adored in 14 and 16 respectively, have statistics to overcome. The past 20 runnings with a double-figure field have produced only four winners from a double-figure starting position.
Eleven have been declared for tomorrow's other Group One feature, the Coronation Cup; again, an unusually large gathering, not exceeded since Black Jester won the 1915 wartime running at Newmarket and equalled only three times since. French raider Getaway, from the André Fabre yard, is favourite.
The best-backed Derby runner yesterday was Aidan O'Brien's King Of Rome, after the news that he is the choice of three-time winner Johnny Murtagh from five Ballydoyle challengers, ahead of Dante Stakes runner-up Frozen Fire, who will be ridden by Mick Kinane.
King Of Rome, second to stablemate Allesandro Volta in the Lingfield Trial, tumbled down the lists and is now a 10-1 shot. No horse beaten in the Dante Stakes has ever gone on to win the Derby, but several placed at Lingfield, most recently Snow Knight in 1974, have achieved glory at Epsom.
NB: Rainbow Fox
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