Frankie's Fillies Light Up Ladies' Day

Frankie Dettori jumps for joy after a Group 1 double | PA Media


EPSOM DOWNS, UK–It was a chill wind, rather than an ill wind, that blew across the Downs as the early birds arrived at Epsom. The drive to Surrey had been peppered by racing popping up on the Radio 4 news, and that's rarely a good sign. Animal Rising may be chaotic in its reasoning but, with its threats of disruption, the protest group has done a good job of grabbing attention in the run-up to the Derby. Sure enough, there it was again, on repeat on the hourly bulletins.

The racecourse always comes as a bit of a surprise as suburbia gives way to the wide open space which, for almost 250 years, has held tightly its most prized asset. Those cambered bends of one of the world's most extraordinary racecourses are accompanied by a shining white grandstand resembling a cruise liner marooned on the turf. It's a startling sight on any day and by Friday morning it was encased by barricades: Fortress Epsom standing ready to repel those whose sole intent wasn't simply to enjoy a bloody good day at the races.

On cue, the sun emerged mid-morning to aid tens of thousands of racegoers in that pursuit. Eve Johnson Houghton and Anthony Bromley know how to unearth a value buy at the yearling sales and, after Chipotle (GB) and Streets Of Gold (Ire), the stable has another precocious youngster to take them and the members of the Woodway 20 syndicate to more big days out. Bobsleigh (Ire) (Elzaaam {Aus}) shot down the straight to win the Woodcote like he was on the Cresta Run. After tackling the weirdness of Brighton then Epsom with aplomb, Ascot will seem like a doddle.

This was Ladies' Day. In fact, it was Lady Bamford's day, and the only moment the smile slipped from the face of the diminutive owner-breeder of the Oaks winner Soul Sister (GB) was when Frankie Dettori tried to lift her off her feet and spin her round in the winner's circle. 

For Lady Bamford it was a second Oaks success after Sariska (GB), for Dettori a seventh, the first of which came almost 30 years ago with Balanchine. Will he retire to bed tonight thinking 'what the hell was I doing announcing my retirement?' He won't be the only one questioning that decision, if indeed he is. 

The indefatigable jockey had already given one masterclass aboard Emily Upjohn (GB) to win the G1 Dahlbury Coronation Cup, setting up the first half of a memorable Group 1 double for John and Thady Gosden. The runners-up of last year's Derby and Oaks went toe to toe down the hill for home, with the only certainty being that one of them would once again have to settle for second. Westover (GB) gave way, perhaps not graciously, to the powerhouse that is Emily Upjohn, now resplendent in the huge frame that once made her a backward-looking yearling deemed worth a bid that was half the price of her illustrious sire's covering fee. She's showing them now. 

Last summer, an early morning July Course gallop for Emily Upjohn, and the sudden appearance of Dettori to ride her, was the first sign of a rapprochement between the jockey and John Gosden, a temporary parting of ways having ensued in the wake of a few irksome results at Royal Ascot. Whether it was that public chiding or merely his wish to go out on top that first prompted Dettori's thoughts of retirement, he will certainly be granted the latter. He already has two British Classics under his belt this season and, as his twin triumphs on those glorious fillies at Epsom show, he remains very much in his pomp as a rider.

He is still the public's darling, too, and boy does racing need a figure of such recognisable vibrance right now.  “I'll have a few quid on Frankie,” said the lady on the paddock rail to her friend before the Coronation Cup. She wasn't the only one with thoughts of backing Frankie blind. By late afternoon on Friday, the plunge on Dettori's Gosden-trained Derby runner Arrest (Ire) had gathered pace to push him to the head of the market past Auguste Rodin (Ire). A Frankie-Frankel Oaks-Derby double would certainly help to propel racing to the front pages for all the right reasons, providing that's the only prominent Arrest at Epsom on Saturday. 

There's a saying that goes 'show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser'. But when you own a share in a stallion who has contributed in a homebred filly running third in the Oaks, then you are entitled to feel pretty cock-a-hoop, as Steven Smith and Andy Lloyd of Hunscote Stud did by late afternoon. Their battler of a filly, Caernarfon (GB), had already belied her odds to run fourth in the 1,000 Guineas and now here she was again, challenging the favourite Savethelastdance (Ire) for second on the line in the biggest fillies' Classic of them all.

“Her sister was bulletproof, and she's bulletproof,” said Smith of Caernarfon and her Group 3-winning sibling Dan's Dream (GB), both daughters of Cityscape (GB).

“She's small, she's agile, she doesn't appear to need much work. She just didn't quite get the trip,” he added, before turning to the subject of a potential run in the marginally shorter Prix de Diane.

“A physical specimen she is not but, like all Cityscapes, she has a good mind and she tries. And if you have those two things in a racehorse you have a chance.”

A major share-holder in Cityscape, a former resident of Overbury Stud who is currently in Argentina, Smith is already musing the return of the Juddmonte-bred son of Selkirk.

“We found out today that she is a 10-furlong horse and we can crack on,” he said. “She goes on soft as well, so there are plenty of options. She floats. I have a video of her galloping and I draw a line and look at her eye and her eye doesn't move. Whatever is happening down below is very smooth and economical. She's like Seb Coe. Why did he win? Because of his action. She has an amazing action.”

The beaming owner-breeder then brought the conversation to a close with, “Right, I'm off to get hammered.” And with the uplifting thought that last year's Oaks third Nashwa (GB) went on to win the Prix de Diane, he has no need to drown any sorrows.

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