Dante Festival: Wings of Desire in line for Derby tilt

Frankie Dettori, on board Wings of Desire, (left) beats Deauville ridden by Ryan Moore to win The Betfred Dante Stakes at York Racecourse. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Frankie Dettori, on board Wings of Desire, (left) beats Deauville ridden by Ryan Moore to win The Betfred Dante Stakes at York Racecourse. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
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CHAMPION trainer John Gosden withdrew Wings Of Desire out of the blue riband Epsom Derby back in March because he did not think that the then unraced colt would be ready in time for Flat racing’s blue riband contest.

Now Gosden, and the horse’s lucky owner Lady Patricia Bamford, are hastily having to revise their plans after Frankie Dettori’s mount won York’s Betfred Dante Stakes – traditionally the most significant Derby trial.

That this “freakish” horse only made his racecourse debut on April 13, finishing third of 10 at Newmarket before winning on the all-weather at Wolverhampton a week prior to the Dante, suggests that this could be a late-developing champion of the highest order to rival Gosden’s Golden Horn, who won this race 12 months ago before conquering Epsom’s undulations under a resurgent Dettori.

Now a leading contender for the most celebrated Classic of all if given a supplementary entry at a cost of £75,000, the horse’s rise to prominence also reflects the frailties of many Epsom contenders – Aidan O’Brien’s US Army Ranger was an unconvincing winner at Chester last week; 1000 Guineas heroine Minding, the new ante-post favourite, is likely to run in the Oaks and Sir Michael Stoute’s Midterm was a disappointing fifth in the Dante. At least Lady Bamford won’t have to dig too deep to stump up the Epsom fee after Wings Of Desire won the £90,736 first prize thanks to a resolute run in the closing stages to deny the O’Brien-trained Deauville, who also looks Derby-bound.

Like Musidora winner So Mi Dar 24 hours earlier, Dettori – back in the form of his life thanks to his reunion with Gosden who mentored the Italian during the jockey’s formative years – was content to play a waiting game.

Briefly, it looked like Deauville would cling on but Dettori would not be denied with Gosden’s well-regarded Foundation back in third after a hampered passage.

Dettori clearly felt vindicated – many questioned why he was not aboard the experienced Foundation, victorious in the Group Two Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket last September, and who is now destined for the French Derby.

“Everybody kept on knocking Wings Of Desire,” said the animated rider. “I knew this horse could be anything and we proved it today. And I think if he goes further he’ll be even better.

“When I asked him to quicken he gave it to me and we won. He can only improve, it was only his third day at school, and we know there’s plenty more to come, so we will roll the dice for Epsom and give it a go.”

Though Dettori is adamant that Wings of Desire will be his big race ride on June 4 and will stay the one mile, four furlongs t–rip (the Dante is raced over 10 furlongs), the ever-patient Gosden will delay a decision.

He wants to see how the chestnut-coloured colt handles Epsom’s unique undulations at next month’s Breakfast With The Stars event – an opportunity for Classic contenders to gallop around Tattenham Corner – before confirming his intentions on May 30, entry deadline day.

“This horse is still learning. This horse never did a half-speed piece of work until the middle of March, so consequently he’s still learning a lot,” said Gosden, who has twice completed the Dante and Derby double with Benny The Dip and the aforementioned Golden Horn.

“We’ll take him to Epsom to let him have a feel of the hill. He’s still very much a baby. He’s freakish. He showed me things early on, I thought ‘goodness’. He’s so laid back.

“I took him out of the Derby in March as I thought he was for Royal Ascot’s King Edward VII, like his brother Eagle Top. That was my plan and it has obviously changed.

“He went round a bend at Wolverhampton and learnt a lot. He’s still learning, he’s come here and won a Dante. There’s a lot more to come and all being well we’ll go to Epsom.

“For a horse like this to come from no education in a sense as a two-year-old and to come and win a Dante is pretty special.”