Frankie Dettori knows how to ride a wave, and the surge of big-race success that carried him through 2015 rolled on into the new season here on Saturday, as he steered Galileo Gold to a 14-1 victory in the Qipco 2,000 Guineas.
It was Dettori’s 16th win in a British Classic, but the first for Al Shaqab Racing, his main employer. “It’s the first for Sheikh Joaan,” Dettori said afterwards. “Three years ago, he gave me a chance.”
Part two of Dettori’s outstanding career is unlikely to be as long as part one, the 20-season association with Godolphin which ended with the rider’s career apparently on the rocks – but it may yet prove to be as memorable.
Everyone loves a returning veteran, refusing to yield to the next generation, and all the more so when there is some baggage in the backstory. Dettori was banned for six months for using cocaine shortly after the end of his time with Godolphin, and returned to action in May 2013 without a retainer. His long-term prospects seemed bleak.
Sheikh Joaan al-Thani, who has invested vast sums in European bloodstock in recent seasons, was the first person to pick him up and dust him down. A link-up with John Gosden followed, which led to Derby and Arc wins aboard Golden Horn last season. Where Dettori’s path will lead next no one can say, but it does not seem to be turning back from the summit just yet.
Dettori was always close to the pace from a tricky draw in stall one on the far side, and moved closer to the lead approaching the final quarter-mile just as it became clear that Air Force Blue, the odds-on favourite, was going backwards. Galileo Gold then stayed on strongly throughout the final furlong to win by a length and a half from Massaat, with the outsider Ribchester another two lengths away in third. Air Force Blue was eased down in the closing stages and beat only one of the 13 runners home.
“It was my dad [Gianfranco, on Wollow] 40 years ago, it was me 20 years ago [on Mark Of Esteem] and now today, it’s brilliant,” Dettori said. “I had faith in the horse, I knew he’d be in the first three.
“I knew he was good, but I didn’t expect him to be that good first time up. Physically, he’s done really well. He was just legs last year but he’s filled up his big frame.
“We can sit and think about things [like the Derby] now. I want to see the race again, but I’m sure he’d get a mile and a quarter.”
For Hugo Palmer, who is in only his sixth season with a licence, this was a landmark first success in a British Classic, to add to Covert Love’s victory in the Irish Oaks last season. He too seemed inclined to think carefully about Galileo Gold’s next target, since despite his name the colt was sired by the miler Paco Boy. The Galileo in his pedigree comes from his dam, Galicuix, who is from the family of Montjeu but is a half-sister to the sprinter Goldream.
“I’ve never believed in a horse quite like I believe in this one,” Palmer said. “But it’s not just about my belief in the horse, but the horse’s belief in himself. I’ve heard Aidan [O’Brien] talk about arrogant horses before, like Muhammad Ali saying: ‘I am the greatest,’ a good horse believes that. This horse has had such faith in himself now for three weeks, and the world has seen why today.”
Galileo Gold was introduced to the Derby betting at 6-1 by William Hill, while he is a 10-1 chance with Ladbrokes, and the 2-1 favourite with Paddy Power for the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot in mid-June, over a mile.
The half-dozen runners for the Group Two Jockey Club Stakes included two of last year’s Classic winners, but Jack Hobbs, the 2015 Irish Derby winner and 8-15 favourite, was pulled up and dismounted a furlong from home after fading as soon as the pace quickened two out. Simple Verse, last season’s St Leger winner, was then in front, but was soon dismissed by Sir Michael Stoute’s Exosphere, who stayed on to win by four lengths.
Exosphere took a handicap at Sandown last summer and now looks like the latest horse to benefit from Stoute’s patient approach. The Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot may be his next assignment, while Profitable, the 20-1 winner of the Palace House Stakes, will be a realistic contender for the King’s Stand Stakes at the same meeting.
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