There are only two places, so they say, where all men are equal: on the Turf, and six feet under it.
That may or may not prove the case, when Carlton House represents the monarch at Epsom today. Regardless, she might protest that her courts will also treat all citizens alike – and so hope that the acrimony of the past 48 hours will be decorously left behind once her rivals for the Investec Derby finally join her in the parade ring.
The great race can have had few more sensational prologues in its 232-year history. Unbelievably, Kieren Fallon will not learn until this morning whether he will be permitted to take the mount on Recital. The 11th-hour legal challenge to the six-times champion jockey's participation, undertaken by the owner of Native Khan on Thursday, ended last night on another cliffhanger.
Earlier in the day, a High Court judge had declined to grant an injunction to prevent Fallon from riding against Native Khan. But the colt's owner, Ibrahim Araci, to whom Fallon had made a commitment before switching mounts on Monday, was given leave to appeal. Even as Fallon was duelling for the Investec Oaks with Johnny Murtagh, who will ride Native Khan regardless, two Court of Appeal judges were giving fresh consideration to his contract with Araci. They ultimately reserved judgment until 9am today.
In the initial High Court judgment, Mr Justice MacDuff had been withering in his criticism of Fallon's conduct and court evidence. He censured his "deliberate selfishness", in believing he could ignore a binding contract, and ruled that Fallon appeared to have perpetrated a "straightforward, even cynical breach of contract". A ban would be unfair, however, not only to the owners of Recital, but also for those members of the public who had already backed him.
As if aware of unusual curiosity in this year's race, the judge noted that the Derby "arouses interest in all segments of society". And, as an elite jockey had been found to replace Fallon, it could be considered an "oppressive" restraint of trade to prevent him taking part. "After all," said the judge, "it is not just one day – it is Derby Day." Whether a breach of contract had occurred – and, if so, what compensation should be awarded – could only be determined by a full court hearing after the race. But the appeal judges decided that they would need time to decide whether monetary damages would represent a sufficient remedy.
Even after years of familiarity with this incorrigibly controversial character, John Magnier and his partners at Coolmore Stud are bewildered that their reunion should have ignited yet another Fallon melodrama. Should the appeal be rejected, Fallon and Araci will be standing yards apart from each other – and the Queen – in the paddock before the most venerable race on the planet. And they would not be human, had they not entertained the spectre of Recital and Native Khan going to the post, neck and neck.
Fallon's dilemma between the two colts had doubtless been compounded by a dread that he might never renew his past standing round Epsom. Recital, in his trial at Leopardstown last month, was only Fallon's second ride for Ballydoyle since his return from a series of prohibitions in September 2009. But the resignation last autumn of his successor as stable jockey, Murtagh, made it pragmatic for Magnier to go back to Fallon, whose seven Classics round here make him the most accomplished Epsom rider of his day.
So what about those of us free to choose between the whole field? While Fallon will have sensed a debt to Magnier, who proved so steadfast throughout his troubled tenure at Ballydoyle, you can be pretty certain that his over-riding priority was to ride the colt with the best chance. That does not augur well for Native Khan, who is not guaranteed to stay the extra distance today.
Recital won what has tended to be the trial favoured by Ballydoyle for its best Epsom prospect, albeit few were as impressed as his rider. The colt looked reluctant in front, tilting his jaw and all but crashing into the rail. Fallon blamed a strong headwind, and promised better next time if produced later.
Both colts may have their work cut out against Carlton House, a raging hot favourite until coming up with a slightly swollen ankle on Monday. All having gone well since, that is expected to make no material difference to his performance. He is in the best of hands, and dealt efficiently with what proved a rather half-hearted trial at York last month. But there are one or two chinks in his armour: his temperament, perhaps, after playing up at the stalls that day; his stamina, not quite copper-bottomed; and, in fairness, his strict form. He does have the flair of an authentic Derby colt, but the infusion of royalist hysteria means that the odds make inadequate allowance for these reservations.
He would not be certain to confirm the York form with Recital's stablemate, Seville. Ridden rather sleepily in a sprint finish that day, Seville is certain to relish the longer trip and likely strong pace. The nagging doubt is whether his Classic destiny might instead lie over still farther, in the St Leger.
Aidan O'Brien saddles two others. Memphis Tennessee looked no more enthusiastic than Recital at Leopardstown, but Treasure Beach is value at 33-1. Ridden by the underrated Colm O'Donoghue, he remains unexposed at this distance after disclosing smart acceleration at Chester.
But O'Brien's patrons at Coolmore perhaps have a more talented colt in Pour Moi, who is stabled with André Fabre. The multiple champion trainer of France has an execrable Derby record, but reckons Pour Moi his best prospect yet. The colt scythed down his rivals in explosive fashion in his rehearsal at Saint-Cloud, catapulting from last to first. His brilliant young rider only rode here for the first time yesterday, but has so far been justified in an apparent innocence of doubt. His mount also lacks experience, and the big worry is that he might get behind in dealing with the hill. Visually, however, he showed far more flamboyance in his trial than any of his rivals. Fabre, that little emperor of the French Turf, is entitled to diplomatic immunity from the hoopla about the Queen – and can finally claim this most precious corner of her kingdom.
The Independent experts' Epsom picks
Chris McGrath, Racing Correspondent
1. Pour Moi 2. Treasury Beach 3. Carlton House
James Lawton, Chief Sports Writer
1. Recital 2. Carlton House 3. Seville
Sue Montgomery, Racing Writer
1. Seville 2. Carlton House 3. Native Khan
James Corrigan, Sports Writer
1. Carlton House 2. Pour Moi 3. Recital
Hyperion, Independent Tipster
1. Ocean War 2. Recital 3. Carlton House
Chris McGrath's Nap
Bourne (4.50 Epsom)
Lightly raced improver who managed to win again over 10f last time but has long raced as though he will only reach his full potential over this kind of distance.
War Poet (3.55 Doncaster)
David O'Meara continues to impress and, having picked up this well-bred colt very cheaply, placed him to win his first handicap so easily that he should prove equal to an 8lb higher mark.
One To Watch
Start Right (Luca Cumani) will be among the leading fancies for the Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot after finishing third at Epsom yesterday.
Where The Money's Going
Recital is 4-1 from 9-2 with Sky Bet for the Investec Derby today.