Debussy looking good
Perhaps more than any other sport, the defining events of British horseracing are shaped by their setting.
Horses, jockeys and punters must adapt daily to bewildering variations, from the remote horizons of Newmarket to the psychedelic whirligig of Chester.
Sure enough, the greatest of all races owes everything to its topographical idiosyncrasies.
For the moment, true, the recession finds the Derby without a sponsor. On the other hand, the Duchess of Cornwall was here yesterday to open a spangling new grandstand — one, moreover, designed to accommodate no fewer than 11,000 people.
They can't all be fed prawn sandwiches. But whatever else changes, for richer or poorer, the Derby will always have its bedrock in the giddy contours of Tattenham Hill.
That is why some credence, however temporarily, must be granted Debussy after he yesterday guaranteed himself the season's only Derby candidate to have won his initial rehearsal over five-sixths of the course. Well, that, and the boundless vigour shared this spring by those horses under the supervision of John Gosden — as promptly corroborated when he saddled Duncan to win that grand old prize, the Blue Square City and Suburban Handicap.
Not that Debussy exactly flowed round. As his trainer acknowledged afterwards, the colt's stride pattern proved rather fitful over the undulations, but then that was the whole point of bringing him to the Weatherbys Bank Blue Riband Trial.
Having eased his way into the lead halfway up the straight, moreover, he was probably idling as the well-backed filly, Midday, rallied just over a length away, with Popmurphy coming home well clear of the rest.
“He's still green, and will have learnt a lot out there,” Gosden said. “He was on his correct lead [leg], then the wrong lead, then the correct one. We'll probably take him to Chester now, see if he can learn a bit more in the Vase, and if he runs a decent race he can come back here. He's a handy horse, and I like the way he came back on the bridle. The form wouldn't be light, either — progressive form, you could call it.”
The bookmakers' most optimistic assessment was 20-1, but one stake has already been reimbursed, Gosden having supplemented Debussy for the Derby at the (pounds) 8,000 spring supplementary stage.
Among the formalities yesterday, none surpassed a salute to the man who bred, owned and trained two half-brothers, Blakeney and Morston, to win the Derby in 1969 and 1973 respectively. Arthur Budgett and his two champions are the subject of a sculpture by William Newton, commissioned as the trophy for this year's Derby. A month short of his 93rd birthday, Budgett remains a spry witness to the abiding worth of any horse equal to the demands of Epsom. “Mine were both very sensible horses, very kind horses, but they both had a lot of character.”