Racing: Moon Ballad to launch Spencer's Derby career

Richard Edmondson
Wednesday 04 December 2013 05:43
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The Derby tune stopped once again yesterday to give Jamie Spencer the seat on Godolphin's Moon Ballad in the great race a week on Saturday.

The Blue Riband game of musical saddles may not be quite as compelling as it was in the dagger days of Lester Piggott, yet there remains much to read into the jockey bookings before the big one.

Spencer is the coming man of Flat racing and the mere fact that he will be on Moon Ballad invests York's Dante Stakes winner with some significance. At the same time, it does not discourage those who would choose to support the Arab team's No 1 hope, Naheef, the partner of the man who used to occupy Spencer's promising juvenile station, Frankie Dettori.

Spencer may well be having his first mount in the Derby, but he knows the Classic route across the Surrey Downs. He finished sixth on Tarascon in the 1998 Oaks behind Shahtoush, having earlier won the Irish 1,000 Guineas on the same filly. The Irishman registered a second success in his domestic 1,000 Guineas aboard Luca Cumani's Gossamer at the Curragh on Sunday.

Yet there have been the setbacks, most notably when Spencer and Hawk Wing failed to justify favouritism in the 2,000 Guineas this spring, the pair a fast-finishing neck second to stablemate Rock Of Gibraltar.

Certainly, Ballydoyle have felt no need to call on the tyro for their Derby team of High Chapparal and Hawk Wing. Mick Kinane will not choose between the pair until the latest possible moment – and he would run across the top of the stalls to change seats if he had the chance – but a definite is whatever he discards will be ridden by Johnny Murtagh.

High Chapparal looks as though he will stay, though how quickly he does so is not so obvious. Hawk Wing is the opposite. He was close to sustaining friction burns from the air, such was the speed with which he finished the 2,000 Guineas. Yet the awesome impression he created down the Rowley Mile also leaves him vulnerable for Epsom, as only the chosen few can marry such velocity with the stamina needed for the Blue Riband.

These jockey bookings for a single race may carry a much wider significance. While the suggestion to Kinane that his tenure as Ballydoyle's retained jockey is coming to a close might elicit a barbwire knitting of the old fair eyebrows, the fact that he is 43 next month cannot be avoided.

The queue to replace him might stretch around the globe, but the only two names that count are those of Murtagh and Spencer. While the latter is undoubtedly the most significant talent to arrive for some time, it is still a fledgling genius and one which needs tempering in the most searing of furnaces. Murtagh has already picked himself up from a series of professional and personal mishaps. He has now outpaced the demon drink and is back on the rails which the apparently angelic Spencer could yet fall off.

In this instance, that is qualification enough to ride one of the Ballydoyle big guns a week on Saturday. It seems a sign too that when the eyebrows twitch competitively for the final time, Murtagh will be persuaded from the second best job in Ireland aboard the horses of John Oxx and the Aga Khan, to the top posting. Spencer's time will come.

Punch pursues fourth win

Persian Punch will be attempt to take the Henry II Stakes for a fourth time when he contests the Group Two event for stayers at Sandown on Monday.

David Elsworth's nine-year-old took the prize over an extended two miles in 1997, 1998 and 2000. He was fourth in 1999 and a close third behind Solo Mio 12 months ago.

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