HIGH TIME FOR A DETTORI DERBY

30 May 2004

The former champion jockey believes Snow Ridge represents his best chance yet of glory in next week’s Epsom Classic.

Everything is wrong with the Derby. It is too soon, too long, too steep and too rough for a three-year-old championship – and yet. And yet it is the Flat race that everyone wants to win more than any other. You will hear a lot of that in the next week, most of all from Frankie Dettori. And if  Snow Ridge comes back victorious at Epsom he will probably add a somersault to his flying dismount.

“This is my best chance,” he says of the little brown colt whose second in the 2,000 Guineas looks on form to be by far the best of the Derby trials. “I know I have had 11 rides so far and been second on Tamure (to Lammtarra in 1995) and third a couple of times, but I have never woken up on the morning of the Derby thinking I was going to win it.” Come next Saturday the awakening should be different.

For Snow Ridge ticks the boxes better than any of his rivals and would be favourite if Yeats was trained by anyone other than Aidan O’Brien. He has got more pace than anything except possibly the French Guineas winner American Post. He looks far more manoeuvrable than that rival, and as his dam won over two miles, the 12-furlong trip should not be beyond him.

The Godolphin camp are delighted with his home work, and the jockey’s broken finger had healed well enough for him to ride an impressive if luckless finish on Leicester Square at Kempton yesterday. But since I got carried away enough to back Snow Ridge for both the Guineas and the Derby after he won at Ascot last September, we had better check the opposition before wading in again.

Of the outsiders Pukka is an improver but at 50-1 is a place bet at best; Gatwick, part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, will get some backing from Manchester United supporters and Elshadi is quietly fancied to run well at 40-1 although he was some way behind Snow Ridge when in the same stable last season. There looks to be no reason why Rule of Law or Let The Lion Roar should reverse the decisive beating North Light gave them in the Dante at York, and while Percussionist would be a poignant winner in the Robert Sangster colours, we would need to have some very heavy rain this week to get the soft conditions he had when running home clear and wide in the Lingfield Derby trial.

But being by Sadler’s Wells and having already won over the full mile and a half, Percussionist is likely to cut for home and exploit his stamina. Yeats (also by Sadler’s Wells) is likely to go with him.  The fact that he is the Ballydoyle selected gives Yeats huge respect, but as yet his actual racecourse efforts haven’t hit me in the eye as much as some of the others. Not indeed as much as the way Salford City won the Greenham in April, but he disappointed behind Snow Ridge in the Guineas and while David Elsworth is now talking himself into the belief that his colt will get the Derby trip, it’s worth remembering that the first post- Guineas reaction of this most instinctive of trainers was that a mile and a half would be beyond Salford City’s compass.

Richard Hughes was also talking up American Post at Kempton yesterday. “He worked super for me at Chantilly on Friday,” he said, “he has class and I think he could run a real big race at Epsom.” All this is necessary pre-fight speak, but only three weeks ago Hughes was complaining of American Post’s scratchy action before his amazingly lucky (the leader swerved and collided with the rails) victory at Longchamp and trainer Criquette Head was explaining that her horse had been suffering from a growth spurt. Whatever the reasons, he did not look like a Derby winner to me.

One that did was North Light at York. It was his first race of the season and only the third of his career, but he had the tactical speed to move easily among his field and the power and attitude to cut for home a full three furlongs out. Michael Stoute had managed to keep the Classic spotlight away from his horse but back at the Ballymacoll Stud in Ireland manager Peter Reynolds had rated him from the very beginning. And I mean the beginning. Peter foaled the Danehill colt himself at 9.30pm on March 1, 2001. Mind you he knows a bit about Snow Ridge too. He foaled him at 2.30am on April 9.

Both colts were brought up in the paddocks of Co Meath, which produced the 1979 Derby winner Troy and in 2001 had Golan carry the late Arnold Weinstock’s pale blue silks into second place behind Galileo. “All along it was North Light that took the eye,” said Peter Reynolds yesterday. “He was a big handsome Danehill from one of our best families, his dam won the Prix du Cadran (French Gold Cup). Snow Ridge was a much lighter build and as a yearling got his leg tangled in wire so he didn’t look very prepossessing when the trainers came round in August.”

But history now relates how Snow Ridge began to impress Marcus Tregoning as the best two-year-old he had ever had. How he duly collected at Kempton and Ascot and a slightly disappointing Dewhurst effort did not prevent Sheikh Mohammed making an offer the Ballymacoll camp could not refuse and so the two colts who shared a paddock for the first 18 months of their lives will now meet again at Epsom.

“Maybe the best result would be Snow Ridge to win the Derby and North Light the Arc de Triomphe,” says Peter Reynolds, “but above all I hope they come home safe and sound.” Which brings us back to the beginning. Epsom’s horse shoe shaped helter-skelter of a mile and a half is an anvil on which many dreams are broken. A horse needs to be super talented but above all he needs to be ready. Snow Ridge looks readier than the rest.

Eleven unsuccessful Derbies in, so too should his jockey.

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