Things We Learned » Sheikh to Sheikh

Sheikh to Sheikh

It has been some week for Frankie Dettori. It is not that long ago that you genuinely wondered if he would ever make it back to Ascot’s winner’s enclosure again on the back of a horse, not to mind doing a flying dismount off it.

The reasons for the severing of Dettori’s ties with Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation have been long since chewed over and spat out, but the fact that loyalty to jockeys is not high on the Boys In Blue’s priority list has been brought into sharp focus in recent weeks. Silvestre De Sousa is well down the Godolphin roll now, while Mikael Barzalona has gone back to France from whence he came.

And so, isn’t it a strange world that sees Dettori ride more winners at Royal Ascot for his new boss, Sheikh Joaan’s Al Shaqab Racing, than there have been Godolphin winners? Okay, so Treve didn’t win, but the two-year-olds have been building a platform for a bright future. The Wow Factor was impressive in landing the Coventry Stakes, while Baitha Alga stepped up on his Woodcote Stakes win at Epsom to run out a really impressive winner of the Norfolk Stakes.

And if you thought that Frankie’s flying dismount was a thing that was confined to history after he silkily and smoothly slid off The Wow Factor’s back after the Coventry Stakes on Tuesday – those ankles don’t get stronger as you get older you know – you had to think again when he jumped sky high after Baitha Alga won the Norfolk.

The spring is back in Dettori’s step.

Irish week

We are getting used to Irish success at big British meetings these days. Fourteen Irish-trained winners at Cheltenham 2013 was a record, and eight winners at Royal Ascot three months later was another.

With one day still to go, Irish trainers are on track to equal or better last year’s collective Royal Ascot total. It is difficult to believe that there were no Irish winners at Royal Ascot in 1990 or 1994, and that there were just two (Mastercraftsman and Yeats, both trained by Aidan O’Brien) as recently as 2009.

Irish highlights so far? Difficult to pick one over another, but Leading Light’s Gold Cup was special, as was Sole Power’s second King’s Stand Stakes, the first time a horse landed back-to-back renewals of the race since Gold Bridge did so in 1933/34.

Jockey go-round

There were plenty of jockey manoeuvrings during the week, and it wasn’t just that Johnny Murtagh was having lunch before racing or that Ruby Walsh had a microphone instead of a whip in his hand.

Ryan Moore rode Guerre for Aidan O’Brien in the King’s Stand Stakes instead of riding Sole Power, whom he had ridden on his most recent three runs after Murtagh’s retirement and on whom he had won the Palace House Stakes. Yet he rode Parbold for Richard Fahey in the Jersey Stakes instead of the second Ballydoyle string Great White Eagle.

Wayne Lordan rode Waltzing Matilda in that Jersey Stakes instead of Sudirman, despite the fact that Tommy Stack’s filly was the lesser-fancied of the pair in the market by far, while Harry Bentley was not given the ride on Pearl Secret in the King’s Stand Stakes, the ride going to Olivier Peslier. Bentley was also replaced by Peslier on Lightning Thunder in the Coronation Stakes yesterday, despite the fact that the youngster had ridden the Pearl Bloodstock filly in all of her previous seven races, including to the runner-up position in two Classics. It’s a fickle old business.

Jersey gems

There were a couple of other things to note from the Jersey Stakes on Wednesday. Firstly, it was a deserved success for Mustajeeb – vindication of trainer Dermot Weld’s faith in his horse – under a superb ride from Pat Smullen, a characteristic keep-it-simple-for-maximum-efficiency ride.

The two other horses to take out of the race, as well as the winner, were Muwaary and the afore-mentioned Waltzing Matilda. You couldn’t say that Muwaary was under the radar, he was fourth in the French Guineas on his previous run and, while he wasn’t quite as keen on Wednesday as he had been at Longchamp, he was keen enough through the early stages.

John Gosden’s colt probably wasn’t helped by the fact that he was drawn low on the far side as the early pace centred on That Is The Spirit down the near side. As a consequence, he had to do a little bit of running to clear his rivals on the far side and move across to race with the near-side pace, and he saw daylight for the whole seven furlongs of the race.

Significantly, eight of the first nine horses home in the 23-horse race were drawn 14 or higher, so Muwaary probably did really well to finish second, the first two clear, from stall four.

Waltzing Matilda was probably drawn well in stall 21, but she was held up towards the rear of the field in the early stages of the race, which was not ideal. It was a race in which the pace held up well, as evidenced by the fact that the first four horses home all raced prominently. Indeed, they occupied four of the first five positions from flagfall, so it is reasonable to conclude that Waltzing Matilda did well to finish fifth.

It was a huge run anyway from Tommy Stack’s filly, even if you don’t take into account the fact that she probably didn’t have the run of the race. This was just her third race ever, and it was a huge call to pitch a filly – she was the only filly in the race – with so little experience into a Jersey Stakes.

A 40/1 shot in the morning, she was sent off at 33/1. She was not completely unfancied, and it was significant that, as mentioned above, Wayne Lordan rode her in preference to last year’s Phoenix Stakes winner Sudirman.

The other point worth noting about the Danehill Dancer filly is that this was her first run on fast ground. She won her maiden at Leoapardstown on heavy ground, and her really encouraging run behind Afternoon Sunlight in the Guineas Trial was on soft to heavy ground. That opens up more options for her now. She is an exciting filly and she will be of interest wherever she goes next.

Queen needed

Finally, we need a queen. Not an off-with-their-heads type of queen or a let-them-eat-cake type of queen, nor even a tart-making, diagonally-moving, Bohemian-Rhapsody-singing queen. Just a queen who will take five days out of her schedule every year to go to the races, and bring 40,000 or 70,000 people with her.

Apply within. (Dress code: smart casual.)

© The Sunday Times, 21st June 2014