I’m beginning to fear for dear old Ryan Moore. First the noted adversary of the Fourth Estate comes over all chummy in an interview with our very own Julian Muscat. Then the former champion jockey appears to slip further into delirium after finishing seventh on Lines Of Battle in the Kentucky Derby.
“I can honestly say that the Derby was the best day’s racing I have ever experienced,” he said in a confused aftermath. “It was different class, on another level to what I have seen, or been involved in, anywhere else around the globe.”
Ryan, Ryan, what are you talking about? You have taken part in the best race in the world several times before and you have even won the blessed thing. It’s called the Derby – the original one – not the imitation in Louisville. Go to the back of the weighing-room.
History and location are the indicators of superiority here. While Diomed was winning the first Derby in 1780 the Americans were not simultaneously watching racing beneath the Twin Spires. They were surrendering to the British after the Siege of Charleston towards the end of the American Revolutionary War.
The track was presumably designed by someone with an opium problem, but it is the ultimate test
To give Ryan a bit of a break, the Run for the Roses is undeniably a potent occasion. Yet it is still run over one of the States’ one size and shape fits all racecourses.
Epsom’s undulating switchback was presumably designed by someone with an opium problem, but the architect knowingly or otherwise provided a configuration which became the ultimate examination of both racehorse and rider. We are about to be reminded of its magic once again.
The first Derby I can remember watching was in 1973, when I sneaked into the boarders’ territory at my school between lessons to watch Morston triumph. This puzzled me almost as much as my studies because it meant that Lester Piggott did not win the race, which otherwise he did when I was three months old, then a child, teenager and officially a man.
I backed Empery (1976) and The Minstrel (1977) just because Lester was on board and heard about my granny backing Snow Knight (50-1 in 1974) just because the horse had gone berserk in the preliminaries.
Many years later a newspaper actually started paying for me to cover the Derby. They say the first time is the most memorable and ergo I recall the Blue Riband of 1990.
In the build-up to Derby day I attended a ‘Breakfast with the Stars’ press morning, which featured a piece of track work by Francois Boutin’s Linamix. This exercise was set up to determine if the grey would be suited by the contour of Tattenham Corner, but as he virtually walked into the straight it seemed a little difficult to draw a firm conclusion.
When Gerald Mosse, the French jockey, dismounted he was approached by a posse of journalists, led by John Garnsey of the Daily Express. John does not speak much French and Gerald had not mastered English by that stage, which led to a slight misunderstanding. “Does he act?” asked Garns. Gerald was quietened by this, as he wondered why Linamix should be a thespian as well as a racehorse. Garns broke the silence with admirable British aplomb. He repeated his question, but this time he shouted it for good measure.
The Daily Express was also a factor in my Epsom experience two years earlier when there was a competition on its racing pages. The big question to win a trip to the races was: which horse won the Derby in 1981 and was subsequently kidnapped and killed by the IRA? It appeared I was the only one shrewd enough to have followed this story and I won first prize.
Thus followed a trip to a champagne tent in the Home Counties on the morning of the race, a helicopter trip to another champagne tent on the Epsom infield and finally more champagne after Waajib (15-8fav) had collected the Diomed Stakes for Alec Stewart and Michael Roberts. Champagne galore!
There have been some poor performances on Derby day – such as Lyphard and the eight consecutive losing favourites from 1973 to 1980 – and mine was soon to be up there. Kahyasi won the Classic from what seemed to be the biggest field in the race’s history through my eyes. He got the trip better than I did.
The journey back in the helicopter was an aerial nightmare for my fellow passengers, who worried about the consequence of my every hiccough. My partner for the day contemplated whether the wedding organised for the following month was such a good idea. Almost 25 years on she still has the same reservations.