11 July 2004

The former champion jockey is on sparkling form at his beloved Ascot, treating his adoring fans to another four winners

“Give me a yard full of geldings,” wrote the late, great Jack Colling, “and I will have the bookies screaming for mercy.” His shade would have smiled yesterday as Ascot’s two big races went to Shot To Fame and Dorothy’s Friend, both of whom have had their concentration focused by the sharpest cut of all, a fate also imposed on Arcalis and Promotion, first and second in the John Smith’s Cup at York later in the afternoon.

But the idea that the loss of manhood should calm a young colt’s fevered spirit did not at first work for Shot To Fame last season. “He seemed to get worse,” said Walter Swinburn, who will take over from his father-in-law Peter Harris as the colt’s trainer next year. “In the end we had to give up with him. But this year he is much calmer and I thought he did a real good job today.”

The Harris-Swinburn operation also added a long uphill trotting routine to their training schedule this spring and Shot To Fame needed every ounce of his resources in the Group Three Michael Page International Trophy as the pace-setting Gateman came back at him with a last-ditch lunge so typical of a Mark Johnston runner.

“He had to dig deep,” said Frankie Dettori, who had won the first on Pivotal Point and now obliged his adoring fans with a flying dismount. “Peter told me the horse had got into a pitched battle with Gateman last time so I should delay the challenge as late as I could. The other one was coming back and I was glad the line came in time.”

With four more fancied Dettori rides to come, bookmakers were already getting ready for panic mode, but although the Italian scooped up the last two races on Sacred Nuts (no joke intended) and Dubois, and was second on Berkhamsted to the promising Cape Greko, a `Magnificent Seven’ style landslide was saved by a moderate performance from Pagan Dance behind the strong-finishing Dorothy’s Friend in the Totesport Heritage Handicap.

Once again there was a Mark Johnston-trained front-runner to ensure victory was earned the hard way. Indeed, Double Obsession cut so strongly for home off the last turn that for a long time it looked as if nothing would nail him. But in the final furlong, first the splendidly named Thewhirlingdervish, then Random Quest and finally Dorothy’s Friend fought their way past as the winning post rushed up.

Dorothy’s Friend has now won five of his last six races to fulfill some of the expectations that originally drew a six-figure sum at the yearling sales. But it has not been an altogether smooth (or operation free) journey to this peak as the vet vetoed that original sale and three runs as a two-year-old were sufficiently unpromising to make stallion tackle superfluous to requirements.

Stud dreams may be over but Dorothy’s Friend is now that most enviable of possessions, a racehorse that gives you a decent shot every time you get to the track. Such a compliment now applies equally to Arcalis and the Queen’s gelding Promotion, who fought out a stirring finish to the John Smith’s Cup up at York in a race made especially demanding by the attempt of Polar Jem to continue her front-running sequence into a fifth consecutive victory.

Promotion had been backed down to favourite so the roar that went up as he took over from Red Fort a furlong out was as much down to greed as to loyalty. Kieren Fallon used all his unique body strength to stretch Promotion to the line but upside him Robert Winston was getting a perfect tune out of Arcalis despite dropping his whip just inside the final furlong. It was going to be very close but Arcalis got there in the very last strides.

This £90,000 prize was the richest dividend yet for the fortune that Graham and Andrea Wylie have invested with trainer Howard Johnson in the past 12 months, and their very obvious enjoyment and modesty have already made them objects of affection rather than envy. This was evident again yesterday as they could hardly speak in their excitement and Johnson happily admitted ignorance of the supposed impossibility of Arcalis’s number 18 `coffin box’ draw. “Hoss was bought for jumping,” he said. “I never thought I would win a big race on the Flat.”

Such modesty is never shared by Dettori’s supporters at Ascot and they were counting their money long before the old sycamore trees of the paddock were being shaken by the multi decibel beat of the r & b girl band Mis-Teeq. Aleesha, Sabrina and Su-Elise may be chart toppers but on this track it is Dettori who works the crowd. And for a moment yesterday it looked as if he had worked it once too often.

Eager to please his adoring public he gave them an unexpected flying dismount after winning the nursery on Sacred Nuts only to then fall over backwards on landing. The Dettori airborne descent is normally confined to major races but after then winning the last on the blinkered Dubois, the wrong needed righting. For a third time the jockey leapt arms wide to the skies and the landing on this occasion was completed with a dip of the knees and a bow of which an Olympic gymnast would have been proud.

Ascot is spending millions in converting the ever-enlarging sandpit in the centre of the course into the greatest racing plant the world has seen. No doubt huge sums will be spent on promotion but the greatest asset they or we have still comes in the unique acrobat entertainer that is Frankie Dettori. They are lucky he’s not gelded.

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