Magazine article The Spectator

Courageous Stayers

Magazine article The Spectator

Courageous Stayers

Article excerpt

If your selection is going to get beaten, then let it be like that. I had urged readers to back Sakhee for the Derby because he was a toughie, a grown-up, a horse who does not like to be passed and one who will stick his neck out and fight. Sakhee did all of that at Epsom down the finishing straight but he was beaten by an even braver, tougher horse in Sinndar, as the pair of them powered five lengths clear of the field. It was a truly classic race between two courageous stayers, for my money one of the best we have seen in recent years. And with a huge crowd out on a sunny Epsom Downs it was quite like old times. In fact it was very like old times. We may be in the 21st century but there was the Queen Mother handing over the prize to the Aga Khan, who was winning his fourth Derby. And while his father may have won five, the present Aga Khan has won all his four with home-bred horses. I hope he gets the fifth and, since John Oxc has a brother to Sinndar back at Currabeg in Co. Kildare, it might be sooner rather than later.

It really was a day to savour. Winning jockey Johnny Murtagh has been all the way down to the bottom of the Slough of despond and back as he struggled to contain his weight, at one stage having to give up his job as John Ox's stable jockey. (He once told jump jockey Mick Fitzgerald, `Mick, if you want to do this job you've got to realise you are not a normal person.') His wife was in tears, and Johnny himself held on to the Queen Mother's hand for quite some time. Why was that? we asked. `Well, I don't often get to meet her,' came the entirely reasonable reply. Every day is a battle with the scales. Doing anything less than the 9st carried in the Derby is a struggle but, as he says, when you are riding horses of the quality he gets with John Oxx it does become a little easier. He certainly rode a peach of a race, tracking Richard Hills on Sakhee, taking him on up the straight and finally easing a length clear in the last hundred yards.

The quietly professorial John Oxx is the kind of man to whom you would cheerfully entrust not just your horses but your wife, your daughter and whatever was left in the building society. I do not think I have ever seen a Derby-winning trainer so calm, so reasoned and so utterly in charge of himself. He has a huge horse empire at home. …

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