Donn's Articles » What’s next?

What’s next?

Like a child who has more toys than time, racing folk are rarely satisfied. It’s the nature of this game. What’s next? Always looking forward.

How good was Workforce on Saturday? Difficult to tell precisely until we see him again. (What’s next?) There was a slight draining of confidence in the quality of the Derby field in the lead up to the race, catalysed by St Nicholas Abbey’s defection. The Dante winner wasn’t there, the Guineas winner wasn’t there, the Racing Post Trophy winner wasn’t there, and there was only one previous Group 1 winner in the line-up.

Even looking back on the race, the presence of At First Sight in second place casts a small shadow. At First Sight is a wholly likeable individual, but he went into the race as an unconsidered 100/1 shot, the outsider of the entire field by a mile, ostensibly a mere pacemaker, beaten in the Ballysax, beaten in the Derrinstown, and with just one maiden win to his name. Also, Frankie Dettori said afterwards that Rewilding, who finished third, didn’t handle the track and was probably more a St Leger horse than a Derby horse. That may have been heat-of-the-moment stuff, but it certainly doesn’t add to the notion that this was a top notch Derby.

But then there is the time of the race, 2mins 31secs and change, a new track record, the fastest Derby ever run, almost exactly a second faster than the track record that Lammtarra set in 1995, and that is a difficult one to explain away. James Willoughby made the salient point in his column yesterday that all the ingredients that are essential for a fast time were in place – a solid, constant pace and optimum ground conditions. Also, Ryan Moore pushed Workforce all the way to the line. The rider said afterwards that he might have been a bit hard on him, which is fairly understandable when history beckons, but the point is that there was no easing down, the horse went as fast as he could all the way through the line.

For all that he had conditions in his favour, however, the Michael Stoute-trained colt still had to post the time. He still had to physically cover the Derby course in a faster time than any horse before him, faster than Sea-Bird, faster than Sir Ivor, faster than Nijinsky. You can build a running track out of whatever material you like, you can put in as many pacemakers as you can find for a Grand Prix meeting, but if you don’t have an athlete who can do the time, you are not going to get your world record.

Remarkably, Workforce was running in just his third ever race on Saturday, so it is not unreasonable to expect that there is more to come. However, it is probable that he will need some time to get over his lung and clock-bursting exertions and, while it is disappointing, it is not altogether surprising that connections are talking about skipping the Irish Derby at The Curragh on 27th June. That may come a little too quickly after Epsom. It is a curious statistic of the Epsom Derby that seven of the last 14 winners before Saturday didn’t win another race. It is impossible to know the extent to which the effort required to win the Derby has contributed to that statistic, but it would be naïve to think that it was not influential at least in part. It is likely that the King George will be next up for the son of King’s Best, and it is possible that he will meet Fame And Glory there in an old-fashioned Derby Winner versus Best Older Horse King George showdown, the like of which seems to have been consigned to the annals. (Grundy and Bustino anyone?)

Fame And Glory himself put up a sparkling performance to win the Coronation Cup on Friday, in one of the best renewals of the race staged in recent years. As good as Workforce? Again, difficult to tell. It is impossible to compare different performances on different days with precision, but with the hype about Workforce, Fame And Glory’s run has gone a little under the radar. The Aidan O’Brien-trained colt had four previous Group 1 winners behind him in the Coronation Cup, and the manner in which he repelled Sariska when she got to his withers gave the impression that he had more to give if more had been required.

And speaking of times, Fame And Glory’s time of 2mins 33.4secs was over two seconds faster than the time that Snow Fairy clocked in winning the Oaks over the same course and distance an hour and 20 minutes later. It was two seconds slower than the Derby, but there was a false rail on Friday, which meant that they covered an extra 10 or 15 yards over a mile and a half on Friday compared to Saturday, and the ground was significantly quicker on Saturday, an estimated 0.24secs/furlong quicker, according to Racing Post standard times.

If Sea The Stars is the best horse that this generation has seen, and if Fame And Glory was the second best middle-distance three-year-old in training last season, second to Sea The Stars, strange thing for a quadruple Group 1 winner, but there is a real chance that Fame And Glory is even better than the credit that he has been afforded to date. Hopefully both he and Workforce will get the chance to do it again, perhaps in a head to head. Hopefully that’s what’s next.

© The Racing Post, 8th June 2010