'We're Going to Roll Up Our Sleeves': Teal Dances Back to Epsom 

William Cox reports back to Roger Teal and David Fish after Dancing Gemini's spin round Epsom | Emma Berry

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EPSOM, UK — Some may not find an overcast morning in the middle of a deserted racecourse all that exciting but more fool them. Because all around the Epsom Downs the small temporary village that by this time next Friday will constitute the base for the Betfred Derby Festival is gradually being constructed and the sense of occasion is rising. 

But of course there's no Derby without horses, and four potential contenders for the race that remains the highlight of every Flat season gained an early sighter of the course on Tuesday morning before a small gathering of media and onlookers. 

Given that the press were invited along and hadn't merely gatecrashed, it was temporarily disconcerting to hear David Fish, the owner-breeder of Poule d'Essai des Poulains runner-up Dancing Gemini (Ire) (Camelot {GB}) state, “I normally don't do media interviews.”

But Fish, who breeds in partnership with his wife Linda under their Fishdance banner, delivered his opening line with a wry smile and was soon engaging in some small talk about the rest of his bloodstock interests, which includes Dancing Magic (Ire), who was third in last year's G3 Craven S., and the Listed winner Dancing Tango (Ire), both of whom are also by the 2012 Derby winner Camelot.

Camelot is my favourite stallion,” said Fish, clearly a sound judge. “Dancing Gemini is by Camelot and his dam is by Australia and they both won the Derby, but he's got that speed you see.”

He continued, “We breed with Coolmore. We have three broodmares and we use their stallions. So we have three yearlings, three foals and five racehorses.”

Fish's racing operation is split between Britain and Ireland, with Dancing Gemini's year-younger full-sister, Dancing Teapot (Ire), in training with Joseph O'Brien. “Teapot is my wife's nickname,” he explained. “I wasn't very good at chatting up girls in those days and I saw her standing there with a handbag over her shoulder and smoking a cigarette. I said 'You look like a teapot', and it went from there. That was 50 years ago and I've always called her Teapot.”

Fish, who celebrates his birthday on Oaks Day, may be calling for something stronger than tea the following afternoon should Dancing Gemini fulfil a dream that his trainer Roger Teal can scarcely believe is now within his grasp. Teal, who has tasted top-level success with crack sprinter Oxted (GB) (Mayson {GB}), knows a good horse when one comes his way. Now based in Lambourn, he and his wife Sue spent their formative years in racing working in Epsom. 

“There are lots of good memories around here,” he said. “I worked right near the Derby start and I used to stand in Philip [Mitchell]'s garden for years and watch the runners go by. It's nice being on the other side of the fence. It'll be very exciting but it's very nerve-wracking as well. I probably won't sleep for a few nights beforehand but it will be lovely to come back and be involved in it, which isn't something I thought would ever happen.”

Dancing Gemini was accompanied on his canter around Epsom by Oxted's full-brother Chipstead (GB), with Mitchell's son Jack in the saddle of the lead horse while William Cox took the ride on the Derby contender. Dylan Brown McMonagle will however keep the ride a week on Saturday.

Teal continued, “William was delighted and said that he handled the track beautifully. It's on the easy side out there so it was lovely ground to do that this morning. Obviously he hasn't gone mad, he only ran nine days ago, but the whole point of coming here was just to give him a feel of the layout of the track and he looked good.

“I think we're going to roll our sleeves up and come here. It's very tempting to go back to France but it would be lovely to have a crack at the English Derby and to come here with a live contender is wonderful. It's very exciting for David, his wife Linda, and all involved in the team back at home.”

He added, “He's a very speedy horse but he has the breeding to get a mile and a half. He has such a relaxed manner about him and you can put him to sleep and use his burst of speed at the end of a race. He's not guaranteed to stay – no horse is – but on paper he has more of a chance of staying than not. 

“It's the Derby and there will be good horses wherever we go but the field has thinned out and that does help a little bit. Godolphin have lost two major contenders. It was very sad at Chester but [Hidden Law] looked to be very good before it happened. It's an open field and we've got to have a crack at it.

“Dylan has already been on the phone this morning so I've got to give him a call back and let him know my decision. He's bought into what we're doing and he believes in the horse, which is an added bonus. He's very confident after riding him in France.”

A Dream Voyage for Julie Wood

The names Morston (GB) and Lammtarra were being bandied about as Voyage (GB) (Golden Horn {GB}) stepped onto the track on Tuesday morning. In 1974 and 1995 respectively, that pair came to the Derby on the back of one run, but what they lacked in experience they made up for in brilliance. 

Voyage's trainer Richard Hannon has had two previous runners in the Derby, the 2021 runner-up Mojo Star (Ire) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) and Humphrey Bogart (Ire) (Tagula {Ire}), who finished fifth five years earlier. 

“Both times we thought we were slightly taking a chance,” said the trainer as he watched Voyage take a lap of the parade ring after exercising at Epsom alongside Sam Hawkens (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}). “But this fella, he's unbeaten, that's one thing you can say for him, but it's whether he's good enough and I don't think we can say that until after the race.”

Pat Dobbs, who rode Voyage to his easy novice win at Newbury on April 19, was back in the saddle, as he will be for the Derby itself. 

“Pat rides all of Julie's and she's extremely loyal in every way,” Hannon said. “It's great for her to have a runner and I hope he runs well for her. She loves it. She won't sleep for two weeks now.”

Of his decision to swerve a traditional Derby trial, he added, “Running in a trial, he couldn't do any more than he's done by winning that maiden. He is a horse that has burst onto the scene and Julie was very keen to keep him there, to keep the dream alive, and that's what she's done.

“It's beautiful ground out there. He latched on a bit but he does that at home.

We didn't come here to see how good he was.”

Wood was present at Epsom with her husband Chris and was clearly relishing every minute of the Betfred Derby gallops morning as the countdown to the race itself begins in earnest.

“What a wonderful lead-up. You can't beat it, can you? I've been waiting for years to get one good enough to line up and this is it,” she said.

Wood has long been a regular on the sales grounds in Britain and Ireland, particularly at the foal sales, and she selected Voyage at the Tattersalls December Foal Sale for 40,000gns when he was sold by the Castlebridge Consignment on behalf of his Italian breeders Effevi Srl and the Botti family's Razza Del Velino.

“I always throw a stayer in every year,” said Wood.

“A curveball!” interjected Hannon.

She continued, “I always put one in every year hoping that one will be good enough to come here, and this is the lad. He's got the right page for it, and I just want to enjoy the moment. It's good to be in a place like this and it's nice that they let you have a run around the track, because it's so unique, so it's good to have a sluice round Tattenham Corner and down the hill.”

She continued, “He's bred to stay and that's what he showed he did in spadefuls. That is always a good maiden at Newbury – it always throws up good horses. 

“We had been declared last year at the back end for a similar mile-and-a-quarter [race] but the track was waterlogged and the meeting was off. That was just the year we had but we might have been coming here with another run under our belts. He has strengthened up over the winter and he did a racecourse gallop before he ran first time. Today is an away-day and I think it will do him the world of good.”

Lead On, Macduff

Ralph Beckett could have up to five runners in the Betfred Oaks, including the trial winners You Got To Me (GB) (Nathaniel {Ire}) and Forest Fairy (Ire) (Waldgeist {GB}), but it was the Juddmonte homebred Macduff (GB) who was uppermost in his mind on Tuesday morning as he watched the son of the 2009 Derby winner Sea The Stars (Ire) being put through his paces by Rossa Ryan.

“I am very happy and he did what we hoped he would do today,” said Beckett as Macduff and his workmate Lord Melbourne (Ire) took several turns of the parade ring after their more strenuous exercise. 

“He is a very straightforward customer and has got the right mindset – he enjoys his work and gets on with it. He's a well-balanced horse. We came here today as he hasn't run since April 26 and this fitted in very well.”

Macduff was last seen finishing second in the Sandown Classic Trial to Godolphin's Arabian Crown (Fr), who has subsequently been withdrawn from the Derby following a training setback.

The trainer continued, “At Sandown, he put up a good effort and hopefully he will come forward significantly for it. We weren't running many at that time and they were running okay but not winning so it was a good effort.

“He is out of a Bated Breath (GB) mare who is a half-sister to Kingman (GB), so there is plenty of speed there but he shapes more like Sea The Stars than Kingman or Bated Breath in my view. In terms of the way he is made and the way he trains, there is more cause for optimism going up in trip with him.”

Beckett, who has won the Oaks twice with Look Here (GB) and Talent (GB), added, “To win the Derby is what we all aspire to. As a trainer and an Englishman, there is nothing more important.”

Owen Burrows was another trainer at Epsom on Tuesday along with Ahmad Al Shaikh, the owner of Deira Mile (Ire) (Camelot {GB}), and his bloodstock consultant Federico Barberini.

“Epsom has special memories for me as I had my first Group 1 winner with Hukum in the Coronation Cup a couple of years ago and I was fortunate enough to be working for Sir Michael Stoute when he sent out the Derby winners Kris Kin (2003), North Light (2004) and Workforce (2010),” Burrows said.

The 109-rated Deira Mile won a Windsor novice race in April having finished fourth in the G1 Kameko Futurity Trophy last October.

The trainer continued,  “It wouldn't usually be my style to come to something like this but I just felt it might suit this horse. He was highly tried on his last run of 2023 up at Doncaster in a Group 1 and I wanted to just get his head in front this season in as weak a race as we could find and I feel we did that at Windsor, where he won nicely.

“I feel he has taken a big step forward from that and Ahmad was adamant he didn't want to go for a trial, so I thought today would give us the ideal opportunity to come and get a feel of the track.

“Jim [Crowley, jockey] was very pleased with him and I was very pleased visually with him. Fingers crossed, today has done him some good.

“His pedigree suggests that he was always going to be more of a three-year-old and you can see that – he's a big lad. I also think the trip won't bother him at all. He's not slow though.”

Burrows added, “At the moment, the Derby is looking open. Godolphin have had some terrible luck and Aidan's horse [City Of Troy] needs to come back. I was impressed with James Fanshawe's horse [Ambiente Friendly] at Lingfield and I think it's certainly a race you wouldn't be afraid to have a crack at.”

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