Pour Moi too strong for House of Windsor
Teenage sensation takes French raider from last to first while Queen's favourite can only manage third
Sunday 05 June 2011
The brash confidence of youth is one thing; that of teenage riding prodigy Mickaël Barzalona quite another. On Pour Moi, his first ride in the Derby – indeed, his first ride in anger round the legendarily tricky Epsom switchback, a course that has defeated many older and wiser – the 19-year-old from Lyon swept coolly from plumb last at Tattenham Corner to victory by a head. And as extraordinary as the first glimpse for racegoers here of Europe's hottest young riding talent, was that talent's victory roll. Four strides from the post, with Pour Moi's muzzle barely in front of Treasure Beach's, Barzalona stopped urging, stood bolt upright in his stirrups and flashed past the winning post with whip aloft.
It was a manifestation of exuberance perhaps more suited to a safe 30-length success in a steeplechase than a last-gasp swoop for a £700,000 first prize, and all the implicit future earnings at stud for the equine half of the centaur partnership. But though Barzalona speaks little English, his understanding of this finish was nigh-on perfect. "I did not plan to celebrate like that," he said, "but I knew I was in front and it just happened."
Pour Moi, a 4-1 shot trained by André Fabre in Chantilly, was the first Gallic winner of the Derby since Empery in 1976, and the 10th in all. Treasure Beach proved the best of the four challengers from Aidan O'Brien's stable in Co Tipperary. The pair thwarted the result the nation craved; the third home, beaten just three-quarters of a length was the Queen's Carlton House after his late injury scare and loss of a shoe 10 strides from the post. But then, it is not be the first time that the French and the Irish have discommoded British royalty.
On that theme it is perhaps not inappropriate that Fabre, 22 times champion trainer in his own country, has acquired the soubriquet "le petit Napoleon". But until yesterday his record as an Epsom invader had been one of serial failure; he had tried on nine previous occasions to take home the world's most famous Flat prize, without even capturing a place.
The campaign this time, though, was clinical. Pour Moi – who, like Treasure Beach and the other Ballydoyle raiders carries the colours of John Magnier and his Coolmore partners – demonstrated his class and exceptional change of gear to take France's premier Classic trial, the Prix Greffulhe, at Saint-Cloud last month, and from that moment, with the O'Brien inmates seeming much of a muchness, the Derby was his target.
Nine days before yesterday's race, Fabre brought the son of Montjeu here for a practice run round the track, ridden by Barzalona. The colt's efficacy that day, and his trainer's praise, launched him to second favouritism.
"I do not wish to bring a horse to the Derby unless I think it is the horse for the race," Fabre said, "and I knew this one was special. And the fact that he is a horse with a great deal of speed and style, which would not really fit Epsom, so that makes today's performance all the more exceptional.
"The plan was always to come from last to first and it was ideal that there were only 13 runners; if there had been 25 it would have been more complicated. But his acceleration is that of a true champion."
It needed to be. At the head of the straight the Ballydoyle's trailblazer Memphis Tennessee was still six lengths clear, galloping strongly. His stablemate Treasure Beach reeled him in a quarter mile from home, with Carlton House closing. For a stride or two the Royal dream was on, but Carlton House could do no more.
And then came Pour Moi. Once Barzalona started his run, those in vain chase of the leaders suddenly appeared as stationary objects in the face of his little bay mount's quick, almost scrabbling stride. Some momentary rebalancing was required going to the final furlong on the awkward camber but, with encouragement from his rider's whip, flew past four rivals in the last 100 yards.
"I was comfortable during the whole race," said Barzalona, the first teenager to win a Derby since Walter Swinburn steered Shergar to his record 10-length success 30 years ago. "I was not worried about being last because I had other good horses in front, and they drew me along. When I asked him to go he gave me an immediate response, and horse after horse came to me in the straight. At first I thought maybe I would finish fourth, but he just went on and on."
Fabre, who headhunted Barzalona last year, was indulgent over his protegee's antics at the winning line. "He is only 19," he said. The local stewards were less so, issuing a one-day suspension for whip abuse and a stern warning about the early celebrations that are colloquially known as premature ejockulation.
In taking the Investec-sponsored prize, Pour Moi has now set the standard for his generation, but he is not likely to appear on this side of the Channel again. His target is now the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe – for which he is now third favourite behind last year's winner (and also of the Derby) Workforce and the Ballydoyle-based Australian superstar So You Think – and he will have a typical French preparation, a summer break and an autumn trial.
Carlton House's owner, with typical grace, shrugged off her own disappointment – she has been trying to win the Derby since her first runner Aureole ran second in 1953 – to present the prize. "We hoped that if we didn't win, then the Queen would," said Michael Tabor, one of the Coolmore partners, "but we can't change the result."
One place behind Memphis Tennessee, in fifth, came Native Khan, one of the horses that provoked the unprecedented events – in the form of a High Court injunction for breach of contract yesterday morning – that resulted in Kieren Fallon being prevented from riding in the race. And sixth home, likewise without threatening, was the other, the Ballydoyle inmate Recital, the ship to whom he had jumped.
But Lord Justice Jackson had it right when he judged that the absence of this one particular jockey would not materially detract from a national occasion. He ruled, in effect, that no sportsman is bigger than his sport, and how yesterday's 232nd Derby, dramatic and enthralling, provedjust that.
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