6 June 2004
Brough Scott at Epsom Downs
Courage, class, and confidence; three mighty virtues in a horse race and never better bound together than by Kieren Fallon and North Light in this Vodafone Derby of 2004.
Last year Fallon brought Kris Kin home late to snatch a Derby that had never seemed his. This time North Light went at once close to the leader and cut for home early in the straight. Others, led by Rule of Law, Let The Lion Roar and Percussionist, fought for the placings, but Fallon had the confidence to commit himself early, his partner the power and strength to hold a clear 1½ lengths at the line.
Yet the horse who wins the Derby is, in the early summer of his three-year-old season, still such a young and inexperienced athlete that everything depends on how he has been handled before the jockey is legged up in the strangely cramped and unglamorous surroundings of the new Epsom Paddock. From birth North Light has been fortunate to have been in the hands of two masters in Peter Reynolds at the Ballymacoll Stud, where he was bred in Co Meath, and Sir Michael Stoute, the Newmarket maestro who was yesterday saddling his fourth Derby winner.
In truth, and in this case, in sadness, the roots of a Derby winner go not just to birth but to the planning of pedigree, and so there was a quality of upbeat wake about North Light’s triumph in the pale blue silks of the late Lord Weinstock, who died last year. For his victory represents the latest in a long line of achievements of the Weinstock horses whose breeding was the special interest of Arnold’s son Simon, who died of cancer in 1996 at 44.
Lady Netta Weinstock received the trophy and it was Simon’s widow, Laura, who told us that she had come here as his fiancee in 1979 when Troy became their first Epsom king. Her tribute, not just to her family but to Reynolds, Stoute, and Fallon, had the eloquence of the outsider. “They are special people,” she said. “I think it is wonderful to see these colours win again.”
Indeed, a race horse has many owners and as Stoute walked down afterwards to embrace his senior aide, Stuart Messenger, and North Light’s groom David D’Arcy, you could see two more people who could legitimately claim proprietary rights to the handsome bay colt that was born to the staying mare Sought Out at 9.40pm on March 1, 2003.
Looking back it was all obvious from the beginning. In this column last week, we related how North Light was always more impressive than his much slighter paddock mate Snow Ridge in their nursery days at Ballymacoll; how Snow Ridge’s precocious victory in Ascot’s Royal Lodge Stakes last September had brought Sheikh Mohammed making a Godolphin offer the Weinstocks could not refuse; how Reynolds and the team felt that North Light might have the greater potential. His Dante Stakes success last month turned out to be the key piece of the formbook jigsaw with the second horse Rule of Law and the third Let The Lion Roar occupying exactly the same positions yesterday. How then could I still have opted for Snow Ridge?
The belief had been that, at this stage, Snow Ridge would still be the more forward of the two, but even in the parade the omens were bad. Snow Ridge, very lean and slight in comparison with the big bay, walked like a great stalking panther five places ahead of him. The compressed power within North Light almost yanked Fallon’s arms out of their sockets on the way to the start and again for the first 400 metres. But this was eagerness not eccentricity and with North Light anchoring second behind the pace-setting Meath we could soon see problems among the other contenders.
Most notably with American Post who Fallon legitimately kept outside him and who ran the first half of the race pulling so hard that it was a grand effort to hang on as close as sixth. But at least American Post’s trouble had no effect on the others. Not so the lathered-up Percussionist who struggled desperately to hold third up the hill and then came back through the field like a piece of galloping flotsam on the helter skelter of the descent taking Let The Lion Roar back with him and forcing Frankie Dettori and Snow Ridge to move wide earlier than he might have liked.
That Percussionist then got his act together enough to finish only a head behind the placed horse speaks wonders for his future if his temperament holds. That Snow Ridge sprinted through with Salford City actually to touch second place 300 metres from home says much of his speed but nothing of his so obviously flawed stamina. That Let The Lion Roar and Rule of Law (who was actually last at the top of the hill) should finish within two lengths of the winner promises plenty more competition before the season closes.
Next up is likely to be a rematch in the Irish Derby. The others will make their claims but North Light gives the impression of a still unfinished masterpiece from the Stoute/Fallon academy. He has a huge, raking stride that reaches a long way in front of him. As he hit the front he rolled awkwardly on the Epsom camber and Fallon had to use all his compulsive, clamped down muscularity to impose the rhythm back into his partner. This is a glory roll that may go all the way.
The afternoon was, as the announcers rarely ceased to remind us, the 225th running of this `Blue Riband of The Turf’, and the the preliminaries were the usual kaleidoscope of clowns, carousels, pop concerts and one-day drinking marathons. For all its almost absurd brevity, the actual race remains one of the defining moments of the British year and with it yesterday the memory of North Light and Fallon stretching out on this ancient turf for their own small part of immortality.