WITHOUT the likes of Kingman, Taghrooda and The Fugue, three horses for the ages who have all been retired to stud, John Gosden always knew that this talented triumvirate were going to be a hard act to follow.
However, the former champion trainer hopes the unbeaten pair of Jack Hobbs and Golden Horn, his two entrants in today’s Betfred Dante Stakes, can emerge as genuine contenders for the English and French Derbies respectively and follow Star Of Seville, who clung on to win yesterday’s Tattersalls Musidora Stakes at York.
However, while both colts are unbeaten, the 2013 champion trainer is also realistic about their prospects against Andrew Balding’s Racing Post Trophy winner Elm Park and the Aidan O’Brien-trained John F Kennedy and Ol’ Man River who both have lofty reputations to rebuild.
Jack Hobbs is co-owned by Gosden’s wife Rachel Hood in conjunction with two cricket-mad friends from university who wanted to name the horse in honour of one of England’s greatest batsmen.
“Everyone is getting a little bit carried away – he’s taking on Group One horses and the Dante is, to use a cricketing analogy, a completely different ball game,” Gosden told The Yorkshire Post before expressing surprise that Jack Hobbs is ante-post favourite for the Epsom Derby.
“Jack Hobbs only won a handicap off 85 and I think people are getting carried away. I think the bookmakers are just trying to create a market when there isn’t one.
“Jack Hobbs had only worked on the bridle at home – we don’t ask them to do too much – but he obviously has lots of ability. He has a huge frame and my concern is that it is all coming a bit early for him.”
The one plus is the horse’s jockey Frankie Dettori whose enthusiasm has been rekindled by Gosden – this was self-evident after Star Of Seville’s victory when the jockey ventured that the winner could be a genuine Oaks contender in three weeks.
The charismatic Italian did appear to lose some of his confidence when his longstanding association with Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation was terminated, but he appears to be thriving now he is back in harness with his early mentor when he is not required by Al Shaqab racing, his primary paymasters.
“He has nice horses to ride and confidence is important,” observed Gosden. “It is rather like fast cars.
“You need a Formula 1 car in order to compete in a Formula 1 race and Frankie thrives in the big race environment.”
In a slight irony, it is Gosden’s former No 1 rider William Buick – now one of Godolphin’s main riders – who rides Golden Horn.
Although the trainer said the horse worked “exceptionally well” in his final gallop before the Dante, he believes the longer-term objective will be the 10-furlong Prix du Jockey Club rather than the Epsom Derby over a mile and a half.
Perhaps the most thoughtful trainer in the country, Gosden pointed out that Jack Hobbs and Golden Horn have only run twice in their lives while Benny The Dip already had six racecourse appearances to his name before completing the Dante and Derby double in 1997.
“It was never going to be easy following Taghrooda, Kingman and The Fugue – you try to do your best – and we will know a lot more (after yesterday),” added Gosden before his stable’s wellbeing was confirmed when Mahsoob won yesterday’s opener at York under Paul Hanagan and booked a place at Royal Ascot.
However, Hanagan will be in opposition to Gosden in the Dante when he partners Nafaqa for veteran trainer Barry Hills who won the Dante 43 years ago with Rheingold before the colt was touched off in the Epsom Derby by the Lester Piggott-inspired Roberto.
The former champion jockey. “He’s been running consistently and I think he’s improving with every run. He was such a big baby when he was beaten by Elm Park in the Royal Lodge.”
Libertarian sprang a 33-1 surprise for Elaine Burke two years ago and her husband Karl believes Lord Ben Stack, the stable’s representative, can spring a similar surprise despite disappointing at Newbury on his reappearance. “In hindsight, the ground was too quick for him,” said the Leyburn handler.
“I walked the track that morning and I wish I had pulled him out. He is back training as well as ever now and we are hopeful he will go well. I don’t think we are going there to make up the numbers.”