Ambiente Friendly Takes to the Limekilns in Derby Countdown

Ambiente Friendly and Rab Havlin on Newmarket's Limekilns on Sunday morning | Emma Berry


NEWMARKET, UK — It's Alex Cairns's day off but he's at the car park next to the Limekilns at 7.30 on Sunday morning.

“If I can't do this for a Derby horse when would I do it?” he says as he awaits the arrival of the Derby second-favourite Ambiente Friendly (Ire) (Gleneagles {Ire}).

Cairns is head lad to the colt's trainer James Fanshawe. He chats to Rab Havlin. The pair both hail from the same west Scottish town of Saltcoats but Newmarket has long been their home. 

Havlin was appointed last week to take over the ride for Epsom, an owner's decision which will have broken the heart of Callum Shepherd, who won the Lingfield Derby Trial on the Gredley family's Ambiente Friendly. Not many in racing would begrudge Havlin the chance at Classic success either, however. The previous weekend he had ridden Audience (GB) to win the Lockinge S. for the Gosden stable. John Gosden has been his employer for a quarter of a century. Havlin, who turned 50 in December, has sat on myriad Group 1 winners in that time but usually has to give them up for the stable's first jockey come race day. Audience was his second Group 1 winner, and he followed that up with a genius of a ride aboard Sweet William (Ire), kidding the quirky stayer to a last-gasp win the G3 Henry II S. on Thursday. 

Havlin jokes about his former Gosden colleague Frankie Dettori when asked if he has been speaking to the now-California-based jockey about what it takes to win the Derby.

“He's been speaking to me about it,” he says with a grin. “He rings me about ten times a day. He's been telling me what Lester [Piggott] told him but I can't give away all my secrets.”

Cairns was involved with Dettori's first Derby winner, Authorized (Ire), during his days working for Peter Chapple-Hyam. “We didn't go to bed for 24 hours afterwards,” he recalls.

It's unlikely that the teetotal Fanshawe would party quite as hard as Chapple-Hyam should he find himself in the position of being a Derby-winning trainer by Saturday afternoon. He would be entitled to do so, however, and a British Classic would be a well-deserved addition to Fanshawe's fine record, which includes Group 1 victories with sprinters, milers, middle-distance horses, stayers, and even two Champion Hurdles. He is quite simply a brilliant all-rounder, a trainer very much in the old-school mould, but in life, as in racing, the old ways are often the best. 

Fanshawe arrives minutes later with his wife Jacko. Their son and assistant trainer Tom is aboard the lead horse and switches places with jockey Ross Coakley, while former crack point-to-point rider Andy Sansome vacates Ambiente Friendly's saddle for Havlin. Instructions are issued. 

The previous afternoon Fanshawe had walked the Limekilns, the crown jewels among Newmarket's 2,500 acres of gallops, but more rain had fallen on Sunday morning, leaving them on the soft side once more after heavy rain in the town earlier in the week. 

“Don't expect any fireworks this morning,” he warns. “We're literally just doing a swinger on this ground.”

Having cantered down towards the start of the Round Gallop, the horses appear again on the far horizon, wandering across to where their semi-serious work will commence. Binoculars are raised, Sansome lights up his second cigarette, and only the skylarks can be heard as they jump off. As the horses become less of a speck, the sound of their hooves on the easy turf drowns out even the birds. Ambiente Friendly eases past his lead horse on the bridle. 

“Lovely, very happy with that,” says the trainer as they ease down after a proper swinging canter over an extended mile. Despite its name, the gallop isn't round as such, but it takes in a right-hand turn early on before straightening along the hedge. In Newmarket, horses engaged in the Derby and the Oaks are permitted to use this gallop the 'wrong way round' in order to emulate, up to a point, Tattenham Corner, but Ambiente Friendly has already proved that he can handle that left-hand turn and descent having won around Epsom's closest replica, Lingfield. 


Andy Sansome, Rab Havlin on Ambiente Friendly, James Fanshawe, Ross Coakley, Tom Fanshawe and Alex Cairns | Emma Berry


Fanshawe is not one for bold predictions but he's satisfied with what he has seen, six days out from the biggest day of the horse's life. It's a big day for him, too, as well as nonagenarian Bill Gredley, who owns the horse with his son Tim, and provided Fanshawe with his first Group 1 winner back in 1991, when Environment Friend (GB) won the Eclipse. Havlin, who will be riding in the great race for the third time, also ends the morning thoroughly content. 

“He's got a ring bit on but he wasn't keen at all really,” says the jockey after handing the horse back to Sansome. “He travelled up well, he was on his left lead up into the turn and, considering he's never run there before, he switched onto his right lead and everything was smooth. I gave him an inch of rein at the seven-and-a-half [furlongs] and he went away. It was on the soft side, which isn't really what he wants, but for bridle work like that it was perfect for getting the distance into him.”

Ambiente Friendly wanders homewards across the Severals, relaxed with Sansome, no sign of any post-work jig-jogging. It is not just the morning exercise that will start to jangle the nerves of all those connected with a Derby runner as we enter the final week of build-up. Has he eaten up? Is he restless in his box? Will he tread on a stone?

Ambiente Friendly's home is in the historic Pegasus Stables, built in 1884 by the brilliant but ill-fated Fred Archer, who won the Derby five times between 1877 and 1886. Fanshawe, who has trained there for 35 years, has long joked that he feels the presence of the multiple champion jockey in the stable still. Perhaps Fred will watch over them now. There is, after all, only one Derby.


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