The call went out for the cream to rise to the top -- and how Frankie Dettori and John Gosden delivered, to cap a memorable Investec Derby Festival at Epsom.
The build-up to the 236th Derby was clouded by fears that the race sorely lacked quality. But the journey home was shortened by the spectacular impression made by Dettori and Gosden’s hero, GOLDEN HORN.
Not only was the son of Cape Cross the third fastest winner of the Classic of all time, he was also, by common consensus, one of the most impressive of the modern era.
Swept away were pre-race worries about stamina, harboured to such an extent by his owner-breeder, Anthony Oppenheimer, that, initially, he didn’t even enter the colt for the race and had to stump up a £75,000 supplementary fee. In fact, as Racing Post scribe Lee Mottershead so rightly pinpointed this week, Golden Horn devoured the 12f trip.
Dettori even admitted there was a brief moment about 3f from home that it looked as if his mount might get outpaced. “Never mind not staying the trip, I struggled to get him going!” laughed the Italian afterwards. Once he had got him going, Golden Horn went into overdrive and powered past JACK HOBBS, even though his stablemate very much got first run.
The fact that the winner had so much left in his locker was a tribute to the admirable way Dettori had switched him off in the early stages when he was a shade too keen. Quite clearly, Golden Horn is as effective over the Derby distance as he is over 10f and while his next target might be the Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown, races such as the Arc would not take him out of his comfort zone, whether that be this term or next when, the Gosden gospel suggests, he will stay in training.
In curious contrast, I feel the optimum trip for Jack Hobbs might prove to be 10f. Connections seem determined to point him at the Irish Derby next, but he’s a beautiful-travelling colt who showed a fine turn of foot to hit the front at Epsom after initially hanging left with the rolling camber. The progression he’s made since his belated debut on the all-weather surface at Wolverhampton at Christmas has been exemplary. Godolphin have, on their hands, a potential superstar.
The exploits of Golden Horn and Jack Hobbs unquestionably rescued what threatened to be a dire Derby. I still feel it was crying out for more strength in depth, although both STORM THE STARS and GIOVANNI CANALETTO ran respectable St Leger trials in third and fourth. But the winner and runner-up looked special and suitably magnified the achievements of Gosden and Dettori.
The eloquent Newmarket handler’s feat in saddling the front two no doubt laid to rest the ghosts of 1995 when his duo, Tamure and Presenting, looked set to fill first and second spots until both were swallowed by the mighty Lammtarra in the dying strides.
And Dettori’s exuberant celebrations, post-race, which spread like wildfire across the Downs and filled countless screens on TVs, laptops and mobiles across the land, acted both as a heartwarming realisation that he’s still one of our best jockeys and a welcome exorcism of those dark days of his drugs ban in 2012.
During that ban, Dettori sought solace on the TV show, Celebrity Big Brother. Last Saturday, he was racing’s own celebrity big brother, and the headline act at a two-day meeting that again advertised the enormous strides Epsom and sponsors, Investec, are making in restoring the lofty reputation of our premier Flat race.
Another monster crowd -- comfortably the highest for any sporting event in Britain -- and an increase in the share of the TV audience on Channel 4 demonstrated firmly that the Derby’s position in the public’s consciousness is on the rise. It is beyond me quite why, in this digital age of media-on-demand across multiple platforms, some critics continue to focus on viewing figures in an era when the number of people watching terrestrial TV is plunging by the day. Their claims have as much relevance as me revealing that more than three times as many people watched the Derby on Channel 4 as watched the Champions League final on Sky Sports a few hours later. True, but hardly a fair comparison.
Audience share is the key figure, so the key associated fact is that when the roar went up from the Epsom stands as the gates opened for the Derby, more TV viewers were watching Channel 4 than any other channel in the country. That’s some stat.
As for those who were actually there, I’d be surprised if many are complaining about their day. Contrary to popular perception, Epsom does not have a lot of room to play with in the grandstands area, away from the massed throng on The Hill. But it continues to use it imaginatively, concentrating on a relaxed, garden-party setting.
The course has obviously worked hard also on spicing up the countdown to the big race. The rolling ouput of the TV screens was used perfectly to complement the action, while the blast of live music to gee up the crowd as the runners wended their way to the start was an experiment that paid off.
Problems that do need addressing include the raking queues for the toilets, both men’s and women’s, which created bottlenecks clogging up key areas of the track throughout the afternoon. Mind you, there were bottlenecks of a different kind at about 4.40 pm when Frankie and Golden Horn were strutting their stuff. For we were all queueing up to salute the outstanding players on an outstanding day.