12 May 2002

Globetrotting Frankie Dettori rises to the big occasion as Godolphin steal the limelight yet again.

Puck put a girdle round the earth, Frankie Dettori tightens a girth around it. Last night he flattened out the flashy chesnut Grandera under the Kranji floodlights to land the £1.2 million Singapore Airlines Gold Cup. It was his first major international success of the year. It had not come from want of travelling. He rides Firebreak in the French 2,000 Guineas at Longchamp this afternoon.

All this at the end of a week that has been a travel agent’s dream. A week ago on Friday he was at Churchill Downs, getting beaten in the Kentucky Oaks. On the Saturday, he was back at Newmarket to finish well down the field in the 2,000 Guineas. Sunday came good on Kazzia in the 1,000 Guineas, Monday went bad when he went to Doncaster and picked up a riding ban, Tuesday and Wednesday got worse when he felt too sick to travel to Chester. Thursday meant flying to Singapore and when he got into the lift with me on Friday there was a serious temptation to echo the famous Stanley Holloway line: “My word you do look queer.”

But the Italian is a trouper and at 32, 16 years a jockey, twice a father as well as a domestic and international champion, it is the big occasion he needs to set adrenalin aflow. Many of us thought that Grandera had too uneven a temperament for the real big time. But when the gates whacked open and fired the 13 international runners up the shimmering green Kranji straight, the poised figure of Dettori in the blue silks of Godolphin knew what he was about.

When last seen a month ago in Hong Kong, Grandera, fitted with a visor, had run rank and free behind a slow pace. The visor was off this time but Dettori was on his guard. The moment Grandera jumped out of stall seven he steadied his partner in the middle of the pack and as they winged past us round the opening turn, Grandera was the very symbol of the thoroughbred with power properly balanced on the rein.

Up front, the American Western Pride led Godolphin’s second-string Atlantis Prince – ridden, as befits these global events, by the Japanese ace Yutaka Take. Grandera was stalking them along the rails but outside him, the much-fancied English runner, Hawkeye, was already causing jockey US legend Gary Stevens to move his elbows with ominous unease.

Kranji is the newest of the great international venues and when the Singapore Turf Club built it they installed technology to put some of Britain’s flat-earthers to shame. Punters here, and there were 28,000 of them wagering $4.5 million on the two international races, are automatically privy to the fact that Grandera pulled a regular 478 kilos on the weighbridge and Paolini a more massive 514. While during the race the split times tell you how the event unrolled.

Western Pride and Atlantis Prince went through the first three quarters in a respectable 25.01, a relatively steady 26.07 and then 25.85 before blazing through the next 200 metres in 10.04 and coming home through the last 600 metres in 12.04, 11.58, and 12.01 seconds. What this says is that the real running started before and round the final turn. It was time to have a horse with speed. And a jockey with cool. Dettori angling the middle for the pack to split, kept his.

On the inside Australian Justin Sheehan took a chance. And took the mother and father of a fall. Whether his ride, Universal Prince, would have beaten Grandera we will never know but to his dying day, which fortunately was not last night, Sheehan will regret putting his horses head between the flanks of the two leaders, who promptly closed on him and sent his horse cartwheeling on the turf. Miraculously no human or equine bones were broken and by the time we re-registered on the race, Grandera was through with a dynamic Dettori at his most compulsive behind the mane.

Paolini came out of the pack to finish a splendid two-length second while the evergreen nine-year-old Indigenous ran on to cheer the Hong Kong faithful to be third ahead of stablemate Olympic Experience. Hawkeye finished an honorable, but slightly disappointing, fifth. The final clocking of 2min 01.30 was half a second outside Endless Hall’s record last year.

For Dettori and, in particular, for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation, all records are there for the breaking. In many ways they have been the greatest ever boost to international racing. They have established the first global stable as ready to challenge in Japan one day, Kentucky the next, or as this weekend take the step from Singapore to Paris as just one race after another.

But last night’s colossal prize was hailed as part of the emerging, but still credibility-strained World Series. For the last two years it has been won by Godolphin and Dettori, and sponsored by Dubai’s Emirates Airline. This year Emirates have pulled out, new sponsors are in the wings, but they will only come if it is a series which others have a chance of winning.

That cannot happen if Godolphin is the only permanent player buying up prospects from others, as indeed they did with Grandera at the end of last season. Godolphin’s is a stunning achievement but how much interest would there be in Formula One if Ferrari were the only cars always on the grid?

The World Series needs to be a championship not a cakewalk.

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