IT took Frankie Dettori 14 failed attempts before he finally mastered Epsom a decade ago when Authorized won the Derby, Flat racing’s emblematic race.
Now the effervescent Italian is hoping to win the blue riband contest for the second time in three years as John Gosden’s Cracksman looks to replicate the glorious success of Golden Horn in 2015.
Though Gosden prudently withdrew Cracksman from York’s Dante Stakes last week because of unsuitably soft going, the 46-year-old jockey galloped the horse at Epsom earlier this week.
Dettori could not have been happier with the lightly-raced colt, who already has winning Epsom form after defeating Mark Johnston’s Permian, the subsequent Dante winner.
Despite Cracksman, sired by the legendary Frankel, having raced just once last season before a winning reappearance against Permian, previous winners – like the late Walter Swinburn’s Lammtarra in 1995 – have been just as inexperienced.
“Cracksman was good,” said Dettori with the infectious enthusiasm that suggests the rider is on his A-game.
“We did routine stuff like we did with Golden Horn two years ago. We started at the mile post and pulled up at the furlong maker. I was going past the winning post at snail’s pace because I was already pulling up.
“The ground was on the slow side of good but in great nick – perfect for everyone. I have raced only once on Cracksman so I am not 100 per cent sure what type of ground he wants. They do a fantastic job here at Epsom and the ground is usually perfect if we don’t get rain.
“He is a horse who has run only twice and you expect him to improve.
“What happened when he ran at Epsom last month was a blessing. It was a slow-run race and he had to move out, quicken and do a lot of things.
“He answered every call and it was great to see the second going on to win the Dante and the fourth won a very competitive race at Chester. It gives me a lot of confidence going into the race that we have a horse who is very competitive and close to favouritism.
“I am excited – he is not Golden Horn by any means yet, but potentially he can be anything and a week Saturday we will find out.
“In my 30-year career, winning the Investec Derby on Golden Horn was the biggest emotion I ever had for many reasons. It will be very difficult to top it.
“Everybody says when we come to the Derby, is it the best racing day of the year? Well, it’s only the best racing day of the year if you win it. It is nerve-wracking, hard work and needs lots of concentration, while the track is very challenging.
“It is the most difficult day, but that is what makes the Investec Derby such a wonderful and unique race.
“Epsom is a unique track and it looks like we’ll have a full field this year as well, so we’ll have to take that into consideration. It is pretty stressful but when you win it is rewarding and I hope to do it again.”
Like Golden Horn, Guardsman runs in the colours of owner breeder Anthony Oppenheimer who shared his rider’s positivity.
“Cracksman went around very well indeed,” he said.
“He comes from quite a fast female family but everybody says he is going to stay a mile and a half so I have to believe them. He seems very happy and relaxed. Frankie and John will tell you that he’ll definitely stay.
“He looked as a yearling more outstanding than Golden Horn did in a way.
“I would have liked to have run him in the Dante – he’s quite laid back, but he’s woken up since winning at Epsom. A bit more experience would have done him no harm but I am afraid we haven’t got it.
“Golden Horn had a fantastic impact on my family and I had most of my grandchildren at the Derby and suddenly I had a family that enjoys racing. Before that, they had hardly seen a winner and wondered what was the point of the stud. That was very exciting.”
Yet, while Guardsman is inexperienced, the aforementioned Permian, who started this year with a close third in a Bath handicap, will be having his 11th career outing and looking to add to his five victories today.
Middleham-based Johnston, who will be having his first runner in the most cherished Classic, for more than two decades, did not think Permian was a Derby horse six weeks ago.
He does now. “We started out in a handicap this year and there’s not many Derby horses that do that, but it was a very good handicap and his form since has been at a different level,” he said.
“Newmarket was a step up and the Dante, where he showed his versatility, was another step up. He is back cantering and hasn’t turned a hair.
“You cannot assume Cracksman will beat him again. We deserve to be there in the Derby and go there with a live chance.”
Churchill will face just five rivals as he bids for a Classic double in the Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh tomorrow.
Aidan O’Brien’s charge – who had been ante-post favourite for the Epsom Derby before connections from Coolmore Stud chose to keep their champion colt to a mile – won the British version at the start of the month and he will once again be joined by stablemates Lancaster Bomber and Spirit Of Valor, who finished fourth and eighth respectively at Newmarket.
Michael Halford’s Irishcorrespondent is unbeaten in two starts this year and takes a steep hike to Group One level, while Ger Lyons’ Glastonbury Song is another to jump in class after winning at Dundalk last month.
Godolphin runner Thunder Snow completes the line-up and is on a retrieval mission after a disappointing performance in the Kentucky Derby when he was pulled up.