At the age of 49, world-renowned jockey, Frankie Dettori, seems to have the same boyish enthusiasm as the day he rode his first winner in Turin in 1986.
There’s been a number of headline-making achievements for the Italian since then – notably his seven-timer at Ascot in September 1996.
More recently, he emerged top jockey at Royal Ascot and remains as important to racing as Lionel Messi is to football.
However, his Epsom Derby record – due to be sponsored by Investec until 2026 – isn’t great. He has won the famous race only twice on Authorized in 2007 and Golden Horn in 2015.
If the betting market is correct, Frankie could chalk up a third Derby win on 5-2 chance, English King, in Saturday’s race (off 17h55 SA time).
The son of Camelot (winner in 2012) doesn’t hail from a big yard like John Gosden or Sir Michael Stoute but is in the care of Ed Walker, previously assistant to Luca Cumani before setting up on his own in 2010.
In the media spotlight in recent weeks, Walker has handled the attention well pointing out his charge couldn’t have been more impressive when winning the Lingfield Derby Trial. “There’s not a certain stand-out horse from Aidan O’Brien and John Gosden doesn’t have a runner so it’s probably a bit more open than normal.”
No-one will be discounting the O’Brien army set to descend on the spectatorless Epsom track.
Seven is the Irishman’s number – he’s won the Derby seven times, had seven runners last year when this scribe watched the action from what was – in the Markus Jooste era – Poundland Hill and he had seven entries at Monday’s declaration stage.
Of course, what punters want to know is which of the O’Brien runners will be ridden by Ryan Moore whom SA racing fans saw run second on Rainbow Bridge in the Sun Met.
UK pundits seem to think Moore will choose Russian Emperor who impressed with a decisive win at Royal Ascot. Vatican City, second in the Irish 2000 Guineas, is another possible mount and could be preferred to Mogul who let his backers down at Ascot.
So what of Kameko, winner of the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket? There’s an extra 800m to cover on Saturday and – being a son of Kitten’s Joy whose progeny have done best up to 2000m – the worry is he’ll run out of gas in the final two furlongs.
Kameko’s trainer, Andrew Balding, has a second string to his bow in Khalifa Sat who is clearly going the right way as he matures. The colt will be ridden by Tom Marquand who experienced what can be termed the “Lester Piggott factor” being jocked-off a fancied runner in favour of one of the stars. He was due to ride English King, but Dettori got the nod.
My joker-in-the pack is Highland Chief whose trainer, Paul Cole, won the Derby with Generous in 1991.
Rather like the Adam and Mike Azzie partnership, Paul shares the training with son, Oliver, and it’s understandable they’re bullish of at least being placed following late charge to win a handicap at Royal Ascot.
The important factor about that run is that Highland Chief stayed on stoutly after being at the rear – a performance which suggests he will be staying on this Saturday when some of his rivals have cried enough.
So – if you are in the same camp as many in thinking English King’s price is too short – perhaps a quartet is the way to go. The suggestion is to double float Ed Walker’s runner (hard to see him not in the first four) with Highland Chief.
Double floating this duo with Russian Emperor, Kameko, Vatican City, Khalifa Sat, Mogul and Pyledriver will cost R360.
The ladies are very much to the fore this weekend with Love (O’Brien and Moore) opposed by Frankly Darling (Gosden and Dettori) in the Investec Oaks. The best outsider could be Roger Varian’s filly, Gold Wand.
The Oaks is also run on Saturday and – 24 hours later – the action switches to Sandown where Enable is set to take on Coronation Cup winner Ghaiyyath, O’Brien’s Juddmonte winner Japan and stable companion, Lord North.
It’s unusual for Gosden to pit two of his stable stars against each other and this may be a race best watched than risking the rent. However, if Yorkshire trainer, Tim Easterby, sends impressive Ascot scorer, Art Power, to the London track it might be worth lumping on the maximum.