Sunday, September 26, 2010

It is deja vu for Frankie Dettori: it is a quadruple for the Italian maestro at Ascot

It was in 1996 that Frankie Dettori had seven mounts at Ascot on Queen Elizabeth II day. Traditionally, this 1600-metre Group I contest is run on the last Saturday in September. Fourteen years ago, jockey Dettori won all the seven races. The Dettori bandwagon cost the British bookmakers dearly, a blow from which they took an inordinately long time to recover. Tsunami struck again on Saturday, September 25, 2010 at the Berkshire-based venue.

Racing began on a positive note for the layers as a longshot won the curtain raiser. Long Lashes, Dettori’s ride and a 11/2 chance, finished twelfth. Frankel, a Henry Cecil trainee, won the second race, the Group II Royal Lodge Stakes. The third race was the Group I Meon Valley Stud Fillies’ Mile for freshmen. White Moonshine, a Godolphin-owned and Saeed bin Suroor-trained filly, came with a fluent run from the rear of the five-filly field to win despite drifting to the right in the waning yards. The Dynaformer (out of Desert Gold by Seeking The Gold) filly was the 4/5 favorite and was winning her fourth consecutive race. The time was 1 42.75 on a good to soft Ascot course.

White Moonshine broke her duck at Ascot on July 23 when winning a 1200-metre maiden event as a 15/2 chance. Then came a Group III victory at Newmarket on August 7 in a 1400-metre race and she was the 11/4 second choice. The third win came at Doncaster on September 10 in a 1600-metre Group II race. White Moonshine was the 8/11 chalk.

Jockey Dettori had steered the David Nicholls-trained Redford to an easy win in the Ayr Gold Cup on September 18. Redford, a five year-old gelding by Bahri, was a 14/1 chance at Ayr in the 26-runner field. The Ayr Gold Cup was over 1200 metres and Redford was back at Ascot on Saturday seeking an encore. The Nicholls pupil was the 7/1 favorite in the 28-runner field that went to post in the 1400-metre Challenge Cup. Dettori was continuing the partnership. The field raced in three groups and Redford was the fastest when it mattered. Dettori produced the favorite with 200 metres left and the race was put to bed in a matter of moments. Redford won by a length and three quarters and timed 1 28.26 seconds.

Then came the QE II Cup. Makfi, the English 2000 Guineas hero and the conqueror of the mighty Goldikova in Deauville’s Jacques le Marois, was all the rage. On the High Street, Makfi was the 10/11 choice but minutes before the race, the odds drifted to 11/10. How does a fan interpret such a drift? Many consider it a negative but there are others believe that an opportunity is being presented. In the2007 QE II Stakes, Ramonti started at 5/2 and was at 9/2 when horses were being loaded. That is why racing and betting are such logic-defying endeavors. Ramonti won giving Dettori his fourth QE II winner.

Air Chief Marshal, a 66/1 outsider, set out on a fast gallop with Jamie Spencer. Rip Van Winkle, John Murtagh up, left alertly to track the leader. Aidan O’Brien had three runners. Makfi lay fourth. Dettori got away well and had Poet’s Voice switched off. Rip Van Winkle was the first to commit and raced past his stablemate to wrest the lead. Much to the chagrin of the favorite’s followers, Makfi was not responding to Christophe Soumillon’s call. Poet’s Voice began making headway on the outside. Red Jazz, prominent all the way, was tugging at Rip Van Winkle’s heels. It became clear that the Ballydoyle torchbearer would keep Red Jazz, a 40/1 longshot, at bay. Poet’s Voice had five, may be, six lengths to find with less than 400 metres to run. Dettori put the pedal down and the Dubawi colt began his rally. Rip Van Winkle had a cushion that seemed insurmountable and jockey Murtagh was driving hard as the line loomed large. Poet’s Voice was coming on. The two were locked together as they flashed past the post. Dettori raised his whip in exhultation but it was too close to call. The magic eye revealed that the Suroor trainee had denied Rip Van Winkle an encore in the QE II Stakes.

The margin was a nose and the time was 1 39.76 seconds. Poet’s Voice was a 9/2 chance. Half a length away in third was Red Jazz. Makfi was fifth of eight runners. By Dubawi out of Bright Tiara by Chief’s Crown, Poet’s Voice was coming off an easy win in the four-runner Group II Celebration Mile at Goodwood on August 28. Poet’s Voice is a three year-old colt and was providing Dettori with his fifth QE II Stakes win.

The QE II Stakes was followed by a Listed race over 1400 metres. Rainfall, trained by Mark Johnston, was taking a class drop and made the most of it by winning the race as the 7/4 favorite. The three year-old Oasis Dream made it a quadruple for Frankie Dettori.

Saturday’s finale at Ascot was the 3200-metre Gordon Carter Handicap. Ian Mongan rode Ermyn Lodge to an upset victory over Desert Recluse. Aaim To Prosper, the 11/4 favorite, was ridden by Dettori and salvaged minor honors. The margins were one half length and another one half length.

Frankie Dettori gave an interview. “It has been a supersonic day, fantastic. An unbelievable day. I always ask myself if I can do it again but to ride four winners is tremendous, especially the big ones,” he stated.

Yes, Dettori cornered all the glory but trainer Suroor did have his moment in the sun. He saddled three winners including the two Group I contests. Saturday’s four-bagger took Dettori’s tally to 103 wins for the 2010 season. All the winners of the three big races, the Royal Lodge, Fillies’ Mile and the QE II Stakes, will get starting berths in corresponding Breeders’ Cup races.

The bookmakers have estimated their damage on Saturday and it is in the five million-pound range. Aaim To Prosper’s loss in the finale was a silver lining in an otherwise cloud. I want to point out that Dettori is very popular in England. At Ascot, especially, thousands go to wager on Dettori’s rides.

I have seen in Racing Pulse that Colm O’Donoghue may be in India to ride for Dr MAM. I will call Colm in a day or two and find out.

However, Colm connected with two winners on Sunday at the Curragh. He was aboard the 16/1 Stage Master, trained by David Wachman, who won a 21-runner maiden race. Stage Master won in a photo. Colm’s other winner was the Aidan O’Brien-schooled Bright Horizon who, at 14/1, was a laughing five and one half length winner of a 3200-metre contest that had 23 runners.

Niall McCullagh has been an India regular for as long as I can remember. The amiable McCullagh had lady luck smile on him at week’s end. At Gowran Park on Saturday, Niall won with Shareen, a 9/1 chance. It was a 1900-metre Group II race for distaffers. Sharren, trained by John Oxx and owned by the Aga Khan, narrowly beat She’s Our Mark, the 7/4 chalk, ridden by Danny Grant. On Sunday at the Curragh, Niall won again. He was on the 20/1 That’s A Fret who won a 1200-metre handicap by a long neck. I will talk to Niall soon and ask him about his India plans.

A note about trainer Aidan O’Brien. When Cape Blance won York’s Dante Stakes in mid-May, O’Brien, not present at York, did not permit his deputies to appear before the stewards to answer questions about Cape Blanco’s possible lameness. That enquiry is pending before the British Horseracing Authority. On Saturday at Ascot, O’Brien had another incident that put him in bad light. There were three O’Brien runners in the QE II Cup. In the post parade, the program (number) order was observed but when the horses came out on the course, Rip Van Winkle followed his stablemates which is an egregious violation of English racing protocol. Trainer O’Brien did nlot contest the charge. The Ascot stewards fined O’Brien 1000 pounds. The British stewards are equal opportunity judges, don’t you think?

Chicago, September 26, 2010

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