The last time a French horse, Empery, won the Epsom Derby back in 1976, Concorde was in its first year of service, Gerald Ford was US president, the UK and Iceland were just concluding the Cod Wars and Donna Summer was queen of the discos.
Few have had a better chance since of ending the 30-year cross-Channel hoodoo than the 19-times French champion trainer André Fabre, who runs Visindar and the Lingfield Derby Trial winner Linda’s Lad.
The unbeaten 7/4 favourite Visindar has won all his three races. He has real speed and the equable temperament needed to cope with the pre-race preliminaries at Epsom. But his three victories have been so easy that nobody can be sure how he will cope with the eye-balling hurly-burly of the scrimmage around Tattenham Corner.
Linda’s Lad, available at a more reasonable 14/1, does not exude the same class but has shown his readiness to scrap. Fabre could do with a horse combining the best facets of both, but you have to make do with the livestock on the premises.
Belgian Christophe Soumillon, the best rider in France, is aboard Visindar, and with Godolphin temporarily confining their lacklustre horses to barracks, Fabre has snapped up Frankie Dettori to ride Linda’s Lad. Last year Dettori won the St Leger for Aidan O’Brien on Scorpion. It would be ironic if his first Derby victory at the 14th attempt should also be on an outside ride and not for the Godolphin “boys in blue”.
The Irish challenge is formidable. O’Brien and the Coolmore team run Septimus, who won the Dante Stakes by eight lengths, as well as Dylan Thomas and Mountain, who were first and second in the Derrinstown Trial at Leopardstown. That, remember, was the chosen preparation race for Galileo and High Chaparral.
But the money cascaded this week on another O’Brien horse who was only eighth in the 2,000 Guineas, Horatio Nelson. The odds tumbled simply because Horatio Nelson, after an impressive bit of work, became the Epsom choice of stable jockey Kieren Fallon, who has won three of his eight Derbies.
Fallon could have opted for Papal Bull, owned by some of the Coolmore team but trained in Newmarket by Sir Michael Stoute, and there are sound reasons for backing him too. Papal Bull was supplemented for the race last week at a cost of £75,000 and will have to be in the first three to be sure of recovering that outlay.
But Stoute is used to such pressure. One of his four previous Derby winners, Kris Kin, succeeded after being supplemented in 2003, al-though he was ridden by Fallon, the modern King of Epsom. Papal Bull’s capable rider Robert Winston will be riding in his first Derby.
Other English-trained en-tries worth a look include the 2,000 Guineas second Sir Percy. The cheap 16,000-guinea purchase was ex-cused games for a while having tweaked muscles in that race, but has pleased his trainer in the past week.
Mark Johnston’s Atlantic Waves is inexperienced but, like last year’s winner Motivator, took advantage of Epsom’s Breakfast With The Stars day to get a practice gallop on the Epsom gradients.
Local trainer Terry Mills, once a demolition contractor, said that morning: “I sold a great business to put my money in this game and I’m desperate to get in the frame, though I’m running out of years to do it.”
Victory for his Before You Go would cheer many. So would a first Classic success for another of racing’s tell-it-like-it-is heroes, former footballer Mick Channon. He insists that he would like to blow up the tricky Epsom track, but is nevertheless running Championship Point, an impressive winner of the Predominate Stakes over Goodwood’s undulations.
They all have to beat the Frenchmen though.