He may have won more than £1million in prize money in each of the last six seasons and have sent out more than 1,200 winners since he started, but Richard Fahey will break new ground at Epsom this weekend.
Having plied his trade as a racehorse trainer for just under 19 years, and elevated himself from handling a single-figure string to a team of more than 160 horses, Fahey is preparing to have his first-ever runner in the Derby – with his great friend and ally Paul Hanagan in the saddle, himself on his first Derby mount.
Mickdaam, who booked his ticket to Epsom when securing a gutsy success in last month’s Group 3 Chester Vase, will represent the Malton trainer in Britain’s premier Classic on Saturday, bidding for a share of the mind-boggling £1.325milion prize fund on offer in the Investec-sponsored showpiece, which will be watched by millions around the world.
It is fitting that the jockey aboard Mickdaam will be Hanagan, Fahey’s long-time number-one pilot until he was snapped up earlier this year to ride as retained rider to Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum.
Remarkably, despite being twice champion jockey, Hanagan has never before ridden in the Derby.
“I’m made up,” said Hanagan, after riding a couple of Kempton winners earlier this week. “My first ride in the Derby, I can’t wait. And it’s great for Richard as well.”
With his principal employer not represented on Saturday, Hanagan, who has continued to ride regularly for Fahey this season and who won for him on Tamareen at Haydock last Saturday, is free to partner Mickdaam, on whom he scored at York last October when the Dubawi colt broke his maiden at his third attempt.
It had always been the plan that Mickdaam would then be transferred to Dubai to join South African trainer Mike de Kock, who duly placed him to win at Meydan over the winter months before seeing him finish fourth in the UAE Derby at the end of March.
Mickdaam then re-joined his former trainer at Musley Bank and is now set to run in the ‘proper’ Derby, the jewel in the crown of European racing.
“We’ve never had one good enough for a Derby before,” says Fahey, who trains Mickdaam for Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Maktoum, who will be on hand to watch the horse take his chance against the cream of the three-year-old crop over a mile and a half.
It hasn’t been all plain sailing. Since his slender Chester win, gained in the hands of Tony Hamilton, Mickdaam has suffered an infection of an hock. But a workout at Musley Bank last Saturday morning confirmed his well-being and it’s now all systems go to Epsom.
“He’ll do a nice half-speed piece of work mid-week, and then it’s job done. I’m delighted with him,” reports his trainer. “Last year as a two-year-old, he was a bit of a shell, but he’s a stronger and more mature horse this year.”
The Fahey stable is certainly in top form. Last Saturday at Haydock, rising star Gabrial won the valuable Betfred Silver Bowl to book himself a ticket for next month’s Royal Ascot meeting.
In a race in which a maximum 12 horses will face the Derby starter, the odds-on favourite is Camelot, one of five entries from the Aidan O’Brien stable, and the winner of the Qipco 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket.
“Camelot deserves to be odds-on. He did well to win the Guineas and will be very hard to beat in the Derby,” acknowledges Fahey, who is nothing if not a realist.
Mickdaam is generally quoted at 33-1, but he’s not going to Epsom to merely make up the numbers. “He stays well, which is a big thing, and he’s very tough, which is another,” says Fahey. “Although it was very soft ground when he won at Chester last month, I’ve never thought of him as being a soft-ground horse. It’ll be beautiful ground at Epsom and I’m sure he’ll be fine on it.”
It’s exciting stuff. Never before has Fahey walked into the parade ring before a Derby with one of his horses circling around him. And never before has Hanagan emerged from the weighing-room with Flat racing’s Blue Riband at stake.
“It’ll be a great day. I’m looking forward to it,” says Fahey. “We’re going there hoping for the very best. And I think he will run a very respectable race.”
It’s an occasion not to be missed. Watch the action at 4pm on BBC1.
• Five furlongs at Epsom is fast and furious stuff on one of the quickest sprint courses in Europe and Tim Easterby will be hoping that Captain Dunne and Confessional can do him proud a second time in Saturday’s Investec ‘Dash’, which precedes the Derby.
Last year, the two Great Habton speedsters finished first and second in this £75,000 blink-and-you’ll-miss-it event, and both are on course for a Saturday encore.
• Norton trainer John Quinn was bidding for Classic honours earlier this week in Cologne when Red Duke contested the German 2,000 Guineas and ran a blinder to finish third, after meeting trouble in running, beaten only two and a half lengths.
Honours went to Caspar Netscher, trained by Alan McCabe for Charles Wentworth, and the winner of last year’s Gimcrack Stakes at York. Everything went perfectly for the winner under a superb ride from Shane Kelly, who stuck to the inner, but Red Duke, ridden by Jamie Spencer, suffered a troubled passage before staying on strongly to grab third spot near the finish.
The Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot will be next on the agenda for Red Duke.
• However many horses pass through David O’Meara’s hands during his training career, it is unlikely he will come across too many like Smarty Socks, who posted his third York triumph on Saturday.
Pushing his prize money earnings close to the £190,000 mark, Smarty Socks – cheaply bought five years ago by his owner, Roger Fell, O’Meara’s landlord – was given a superb ride by Kieren Fallon to post a length-and-a-quarter success over Boomerang Bob in the seven furlongs conditions race. His success is pictured on the back page.
“He’s a great horse,” said O’Meara. “Last year he had a great season and he’s gone up the handicap as a result. He loves York and he also loves Ascot, so we might look at something there for him. We’ll see what the handicapper does now, but it could be that we’ll run him in Listed or Group 3 company.”
O’Meara was full of praise for the assistance Fallon gave Smarty Socks, but he was probably cursing the former champion jockey half an hour earlier when Fallon conjured a magnificent run out of the Luca Cumani-trained Fanciscan to beat O’Meara’s Eltheeb, ridden by last year’s Derby-winning jockey Mickael Barzalona, by a whisker.
On Sunday, O’Meara saddled Penitent, his Group 2 winner, in the Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan at Longchamp, but the admirable performer, despite running a creditable race, eventually finished last of the eight runners.
• Having joined racing’s professional ranks this season after becoming champion pony-rider, Ned Curtis was fuelled by ambition and enthusiasm to make his mark. His first ambition was to reduce his claim to 5lb – and he’s nearly half-way there already.
Apprenticed to Westow trainer Paul Midgley, Curtis took his score to nine winners at Catterick last Friday evening aboard Nomoreblondes, trained by his boss, in the sprint handicap.
The teenage son of trainer Roger Curtis rode an excellent race and is fast making a name for himself. Another 11 winners and he’ll be down to claiming 5lb – with his first ambition fulfilled.
• Brawby trainer Geoff Oldroyd has a progressive young horse on his hands in Alfred Hutchinson, who enjoyed a share of York glory on Saturday.
The lightly-raced gelding, owned and bred by Reg Bond, and named after one of his much-missed friends, came late and fast under Justin Newman to win the concluding apprentices’ race on Knavesmire by a short head.
“He’s still a big baby, but he’s a lovely horse and should have a lot of improvement in him,” said Newman, plainly hoping to team up with ‘Alfred’ some time again in the future.
• If Jimmy Sullivan wondered what 2012 had in store for him as he set out on his first year as a fully-fledged jockey, he need wonder no more.
The Norton-based Irishman is enjoying the time of his life and is firing in winners left, right and centre as he bids to cement his niche among the riding ranks, which is never easy once that all-important apprentices’ allowance has vanished.
Sullivan, who recently gained a memorable York success on the Edwin Tuer-trained Easy Terms, whom he has ridden to six wins, receives solid support from his employer, Mick Easterby, and also from Stillington-based Ruth Carr, who supplied him with yet another winning mount on Cono Zur at Haydock last Saturday.
• Trainer Tim Easterby, his wife Sarah and their daughter Emily may have been at York on Saturday, but eldest son William was 200 miles away at Newbury, where he rode a winner on his first ride on the Berkshire course.
Partnering the 5-1 favourite Maven, trained by his father, in the opening amateur riders’ race at the evening fixture, teenager William gained a comfortable win on a horse who had also carried him to victory at Wolverhampton last December.
All in all, it was a good day for Tim Easterby. Although he failed to have a winner at York, he was also on the mark with Mappin Time at Haydock. A 20-1 chance, Mappin Time contributed to a memorable afternoon for North Yorkshire jockey Paul Mulrennan, who followed up with a 33-1 success on the Kevin Ryan-trained Hamza.
Cruelly sidelined by injury from the second half of last year, after a crashing fall at Musselburgh on the eve of Royal Ascot in June, Mulrennan did not return to race-riding until March of this year. He is fast making up for lost time.