RALPH Beckett believed he was heading to Epsom with a legitimate Investec Oaks winner in Secret Gesture, but she was undone by a filly from her own stable as Talent came with an unstoppable finish.
It was to be a memorable one-two for Beckett’s Hampshire yard exactly five years after his maiden Classic in the same race arrived via Look Here, and an even shorter wait for Richard Hughes. The champion jockey had finally ended his drought at this level less than four weeks earlier in the 1,000 Guineas and although he had felt hugely deflated when trying Talent out for the first time on the gallops, the 20-1 shot was an entirely different proposition once she appeared on the racecourse.
Despite Qatar Racing’s late investment in Secret Gesture (3-1), who shot to the head of the betting after a 10-length victory in the Lingfield Oaks Trial, Jim Crowley was assured of keeping the ride and he was hardly likely to desert her in favour of Talent, a far less impressive Newmarket winner.
Unfortunately for Crowley, he was imprisoned in stall one along the rail and had to chivvy his mount along to get an early position and then force his way into some space. Hughes had decided to be more patient, remaining toward the rear snaking around Tattenham Corner, and he only truly unleashed Talent inside the final couple of furlongs. The response was startling and she left the rest standing, emerging three and three-quarter lengths ahead at the line with the well-backed The Lark third and 5-2 favourite Moth held in fourth.
“I went over on Tuesday morning and I don’t think I have ever been as disappointed getting off a horse,” said Hughes. “Ralph was laughing at me, but she was very, very unimpressive. It was only over five and a half furlongs, which isn’t her trip, but you usually get some sort of feel off them. Ralph gave me a free hand about what to do, and I thought I’d drop her in as she’s too small to be in a barging match.”
Referring to following up Sky Lantern’s Guineas triumph so quickly, the 40-year-old said: “I know what it’s like not to win one, going there thinking you’ve got a great chance and then getting a kick in the teeth.”
A stunned Beckett said: “I never thought I’d win one. Two is extraordinary and to get a one-two, I can’t explain it. I genuinely feel for Jim. He had the choice, but how could he have picked the winner? I knew it would be hard from box one, as the last to win from there was Bireme (in 1980), who is actually Talent’s third dam would you believe it!
Talent was bred by Ashbrittle Stud, whose owner James Rowsell shares the filly with Mark Dixon. Crowley took the defeat on the chin, and said: “I had to ride her like that because of the draw. When the gap came I had to take it – if I had been drawn higher I would have ridden her more patiently. She has come there to win her race but we always knew the other horse would improve.”
Sixth-placed Miss You Too was late to the start and jockey Ian Mongan was found guilty of improper conduct to an official, receiving a total of four days’ suspension (14-17 June).
The Oaks wasn’t the only big attraction on day one of the Derby Festival – the return of Frankie Dettori also generated plenty of interest. The Italian has admitted he is a “a bit afraid” for the future but is game for the challenge of rebuilding his career after serving a six-month ban.
The 42-year-old returned to the saddle for the first time since completing his suspension for a positive drugs test with three rides at Epsom. Although Dettori failed to trouble the judge, with a fifth place the best his mounts could muster, the six-time champion jockey was just pleased to back on track and is now keen to draw a line under the darkest chapter of his riding career.
He said: “I want to stop thinking about it. I’ve been through it – the ups, downs and in betweens. I’m delighted to be back, what’s in the past is in the past, I’ve served my time and it’s time to crack on. I missed riding, I missed the buzz of racing. It’s been a very long six months, to be honest.
“The first three were a bit of a novelty, with being able to eat properly and chill out with my family. When the Dubai World Cup started [in March], it has been hard. I’m pleased to be back. I’m surprised with my fitness. It has been pretty good, even though I’ve still got a J-Lo bum, I’ve still got to lose 2 or 3lb.”