TIME will tell if Telecaster becomes a great champion – and possible Derby hero – after winning York’s Dante Stakes in a thrilling finish from odds-on favourite Too Darn Hot.
Having initially entered the colt in the Epsom blue riband race, and then withdrawn the horse, connections are now considering whether to pay an £85,000 supplementary entry for the Classic on June 1.
“It’s a not a bad problem to have,” said the phlegmatic winning trainer Hughie Morrison who said he would take his time before coming to a decision with the team behind Castle Down Racing who own Telecaster.
Yet, while the first prize of £93,500 might influence connections, so too will the horse’s wellbeing. The Dante – named after the last Yorkshire horse to win the Derby – was run on quick ground under sun-filled skies.
And this was just the colt’s third career start in little more than six weeks. Second on his racecourse debut at Doncaster’s season-opening meeting in late March, Telecaster broke his maiden when winning at Windsor last month.
They will also want to decide whether Epsom’s unique undulations might be a step too far for Telecaster at this early stage in his career, or whether the Irish Derby on a flat, galloping track at The Curragh is a more realistic proposition.
But, either way, Telecaster’s team have this enviable problem thanks to another inspired ride by jockey Oisin Murphy who was winning a second successive Dante following Roaring Lion’s success last year.
Just 23 years of age, and becoming established as one of the world’s best jockeys, Murphy was totally unafraid of the lofty reputation of horses of the calibre of Too Darn Hot – last year’s champion juvenile – and Breeders’ Cup hero Line Of Duty who was the big disappointment.
Breaking swiftly, he settled his mount prominently behind Too Darn Hot’s pacemaker Turgenev and the front-runners had soon built up a commanding advantage on the Knavesmire.
Turning for home, Frankie Dettori quickly closed on Too Darn Hot – owned by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and his wife Madeleine – while the rest of the field started sending out distress signals.
And when Turgenev’s challenge faltered, and left Murphy’s mount in the lead, it appeared only a matter of time before the veteran Dettori lit up York and won the race. Yet Telecaster would not be denied and won by a length from Too Darn Hot whose trainer, John Gosden, confirmed that the beaten odds-on favourite will now be dropped back in trip to a mile and contest the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.
The fact that the first two home had four lengths in hand on Surfman back in a far from disgraced third pointed to a strong performance.
In the meantime, the aforementioned Morrison – who trains near Lambourn in Berkshire – is left with a Derby dilemma like no other thanks to his inspirational jockey’s tactics.
“We’ve done it the hard way, haven’t we? We first had to grind down the pacemaker and usually after that they get picked off,” he reflected. “After going two furlongs I nearly put my glasses down and thought we’d burnt our boats by going too quick, but Oisin got it right.
“Too Darn Hot obviously needed the race and we’ve had runs this year, so that is to our advantage, but he (Telecaster) is obviously a pretty special horse. I haven’t a clue how good he is. I’ve had nothing like him before and there’s nothing I’ve got at home that can go with him, but I don’t need one as he does plenty.”
On the decision to previously take his stable star out of the Derby which could be dominated by runners from Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien’s all-conquering Ballydoyle stables, he said: “In March we hadn’t run. We discussed it and said we didn’t have the experience for the Derby.
“We had a serious chat about it, but who could have dreamed we’d have been here today? There are probably worse mistakes to make. That (Derby) is the way you would like to think, but it’s 16 days away and he’s had more than a racecourse gallop today. It’s a big call. He looked a very good horse today, but we’ll sit down and discuss it.”
Earlier Dettori and Gosden won the 10-furlong Middleton Stakes with Too Darn Hot’s older sister Lah Ti Dar – the four-year-old filly was doing her best work at the end of the race and will benefit from a step up in trip.
There was a popular winner of the opener when Copper Knight, trained at Great Habton by Tim Easterby, took the five furlong sprint. Purchased by the trainer’s son William for just £5,000, the Epsom Dash on Derby day is the definite target.
The only question is whether he will be joined by Telecaster on Flat racing’s most prestigious day of the year.