FRANKIE DETTORI will hope to strike another big-race success for the forty-something brigade of jockeys when Bunker puts his Epsom Derby credentials on the line at York today.
He will also be hoping that history repeats itself. His only previous win in the Betfred Dante Stakes came in 2007 aboard Authorized, the horse that carried him to his one – and only – Derby victory.
Yet it is indicative of horse racing’s merry-go-round in recent months that the 43-year-old now finds himself wearing the silks of his new employer – Qatar-based racehorse owner Sheikh Joaan al Thani – rather than the iconic royal blue of Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation.
This most compelling of Derby trials has an added frisson because Dettori’s great rival Kieren Fallon, 49, will be partnering Godolphin’s True Story and is further buoyed by yesterday’s Musidora success aboard Madame Chiang.
Yet, while True Story will be a worthy favourite after Fallon’s positive appraisal in The Yorkshire Post yesterday, there will be doubts about his ability to handle York’s rain-softened ground.
As for Bunker, he’s not raced since winning a Listed race at Deauville last August. However, the form was franked when the runner-up Karakontie won the French 2000 Guineas last weekend.
“I sat on Bunker on Monday morning and he seems in good shape,” said Dettori. “His form is rock-solid and we have always liked him. The form was franked at Longchamp.
“He is in at the deep end in the Dante, the best Derby trial, but we will see where we are in the pecking order. True Story seems a good horse but we are very pleased with ours. He is a Hurricane Run and he should like the ground.”
As he seeks his first Dante win, trainer Richard Hannon, concurred: “Our fellow made enormous physical improvement through the winter and Frankie has been down to ride him and has been pleased with the feel he got. We supplemented Bunker for Epsom for £8,000, and if we get beat at York we probably know that we haven’t got a Derby horse, but until he shows us that he isn’t we’ll treat him like one.”
With the ground yesterday less arduous than feared, True Story is set to take his place in the select six-runner race after impressing at Newmarket last month.
“He won very well at Newmarket and now he is ready to step up from a Listed race to a Group Two,” said trainer Saeed bin Suroor. “Kieren has ridden him a lot on the gallops. We will decide about the Derby after the Dante.”
The unknown quantity is Arod whose trainer Peter Chapple-Hyam masterminded Authorized’s success seven years ago for Dettori. He blew his rivals away in a Windsor maiden last month and the horse’s handler observed: “The Dante is going to be a tough race for a horse who has just won a maiden, but we will obviously know a lot more afterwards.”
The James Given-trained Odeon is in a similar boat after bolting up on his three-year-old debut at Redcar three-and-a-half weeks ago. Gainsborough-based Given said: “We have always thought a lot of him and, on the back of his impressive win at Redcar, we feel he deserves to take his chance.
As for Yorkshire hopes, Kevin Ryan’s The Grey Gatsby will hope to emulate Libertarian’s success 12 months ago for Karl and Elaine Burke. The horse made a winning debut at York last year and finished 10th in the Guineas to the Fallon-inspired Night Of Thunder.
“He’s in good form and I’m happy with him,” said the Hambleton handler whose Astaire was a very creditable second to top Irish sprinter Maarek in yesterday’s Duke of York Clipper Logistics Stakes.
Today’s chief supporting race is the Betfred Middleton Stakes and trainer Roger Charlton is hoping the consistent Thistle Bird can repay the faith shown by her connections.
The six-year-old filly won three Listed prizes during a fine campaign a couple of years ago and raised her game again last season with narrow defeats at Group One level in the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood and the Prix de l’Opera at Longchamp.
Connections have delayed a breeding career and Charlton noted: “I don’t think it was a difficult decision to keep her in training, but it was a game one from the owners.”
Brian Toomey, the North Yorkshire jump jockey, who cheated death after a fall at Perth last summer, has been reunited with the medical team from Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, who saved his life.
Toomey, who hopes to resume his riding career, met the doctors and nurses amid emotional scenes at the Scottish track last night.