Can the Queen win the Derby after almost 60 years of ownership? With the other home Classics in the bag, the task falls upon impressive Dante winner Carlton House to complete the set for Her Majesty.
The prospect of a royal runner, let along hot favourite, competing in this year’s blue riband looked unlikely 12 months ago, when we ran a feature looking at the monarch’s involvement in racing and breeding.
John Warren, her bloodstock and racing advisor, said at the time: “People often ask me why the Queen hasn’t won the Derby. But even the big owner/breeders don’t have a runner every year. There are all sorts of other pleasures she takes from the sport.”
While this statement may be true, it would surely mean everything to the Queen to see her famous silks pass the post first on June 4, albeit with a horse not bred by the Royal Studs, but received as a gift from Sheikh Mohammed.
And what a boost it would give to racing. This Flat season has been set alight by the brilliance of Frankel; a victory for the Queen in the Derby, with all the media attention that goes with it, would provide the sport with its dream scenario at a time when it is trying hard to engage with a wider audience.
The Derby theme runs unmistakably through this issue, from the cover shot of Carlton House, to features with Marcus Tregoning, Olivier Peslier and Bernard Kantor, to the back page image of Shahrastani defeating Dancing Brave in the 1986 renewal.
Marcus Tregoning, who served his apprenticeship with the late, great Dick Hern during the years of Nashwan and Dayjur, enjoyed Epsom glory with Sir Percy in 2006.
Whilst his winners tally has remained respectable since, the lack of top-class runners – a situation compounded by the sale of Makfi, subsequently successful in the 2,000 Guineas and Prix Jacques le Marois, unraced from his stable – has made for a challenging period at Kingwood House.
Yet Tregoning is to be found in defiant mood as he looks forward to the rest of the campaign, refusing to dwell on what might have been, and taking inspiration from his former mentor.
“If things were going wrong and everything was against him, with a yard full of viruses and difficult owners, he was absolutely brilliant – almost better backed into a corner than when things were going wrong,” he tells Chris McGrath (pages 44-47).
“We’ve had a time of deep recession but I’m not a doom-and-gloom person – never heave been. Yes, we’ve had a couple of quiet years, and our numbers are down. But it is only five years since we won the Derby, for goodness sake.
“We’ve had some very good horses and hopefully we’ll get them again. I think it’s a matter of making [ownership] entertaining and fighting your corner.”
One man you would want in your corner at Epsom is Olivier Peslier, who has become something of a ‘go-to’ jockey in the big races.
French riders have not always been very popular on these shores but Peslier’s fan club – Sir Michael Stoute, Luca Cumani and Ed Dunlop are all paid-up members – seems ever-growing.
High Rise’s 1998 Derby victory remains one of Peslier’s most treasured racing memories, not only because of what it meant to him, but also the much-maligned image of his fellow countrymen.
“Winning the Derby is my best memory of racing in England,” he says to Julian Muscat (pages 38-42). “It was my first Derby in Europe but, more importantly, it was very hard for French jockeys to get a ride in the race at that time.
“Trainers in England never used us, so of course it made me very proud.”
Also this month, Bernard Kantor, founder of Derby sponsor Investec, talks to Tim Richards about his vision for the race (pages 35-37), we look at the overseas challenge at Royal Ascot (pages 49-51) and recognise the stud achievements of the great Sadler’s Wells (pages 10-13).