Sky Sports Racing presenter Alex Hammond looks to Epsom Classics and reflects on the death of Lester Piggott.
Thanks for everything Lester
Impossible to chat with you this week without paying tribute to the great late Lester Piggott, who died this weekend at the age of 86.
Lester last retired in 1995, but even if his career ended before your love of the sport materialized, he will always have been part of your conscience. The best stories are always the ones with ups and downs and Lester’s story was one of the best.
Personally, my love of racing began when Lester was “in between” riding careers, and his sensational return to the Royal Academy Breeder’s Cup just 12 days after returning to the saddle was one of the memories that lingers on. imprinted on my impressionable brain as a teenager.
Just 18 months after that victory, Lester was to ride his last British Classic winner on Rodrigo de Triano in the 2000 Guineas. I am lucky to say that I was there and that I had a front row seat.
My mum and I made the long trip to Newmarket to witness what was to be the 30th British Classic victory of Lester’s remarkable career. What a relief that he made this return, and we were able to enjoy his extraordinary talent for a few more years.
He was truly unique, as we will never see him again, and I feel exceptionally lucky to have been there to witness a small part of him.
Piz Badile appeals as Derby bets
It’s a busy time of year for dedicated followers of flat racing (and fashion) with the Derby and Royal Ascot approaching. Lester has won the Derby a record nine times and this year’s race will be run in his memory; a nice touch from sponsors Cazoo and Epsom Racecourse.
Aidan O’Brien will equal that number of triumphs if he wins the Classic on Saturday. He left three foals in the race on Monday: Stone Age, Changingoftheguard and Star Of India, with this trio trying to fill a Luxembourg-size hole.
Stone Age is the pick of the three for me and you imagine for stable jockey, Ryan Moore. I think it’s fair to say he’s had an inauspicious start to his career with five 2-2 starts without a result. That’s probably a little unfair as he finished second to El Bodegon in the Group Un Criterium de Saint-Cloud on his last start as a juvenile.
He is thriving this season and looked quite special when he last won the Leopardstown Derby Trial. He may not have won, but the education he got as a two-year-old will stand him in good stead for whatever challenge Epsom throws at him. He is 4/1 second favorite with Sky Bet.
Hopefully O’Brien will have the most trouble with his son Donnacha, who, at 23, wants to write his name in the history books as the youngest coach of a Derby winner.
Piz Badile will be ridden by Frankie Dettori for the first time, but Dettori traveled to Ireland to get to know this son of Ulysses before the mission. I like the attitude this colt showed when he had to dig deep to beat Joseph O’Brien’s Buckaroo at Leopardstown in April.
The rain that fell in Epsom this week shouldn’t be a downside for this lad either. At 9/1, he’s tempting.
Sir Michael Stoute doesn’t have a bad record in the race, with five wins thanks to Shergar, Shahrastani, Kris Kin, North Light and Workforce. desert crown has strong claims to make it number six after his impressive display at York in the Dante. The unbeaten colt is a worthy favorite at 13/8 with Sky Bet.
Charlie Appleby has won two of the last four Derby races and appears to have a strong hand again. £75,000 is small change for the Godolphin team, but it shows they have faith in Pride of Nations because that was the price to pay for adding him on the pitch on Monday. It will be William Buick’s choice, but he has been wrong in the past!
Appleby also has the Lingfield Derby Trial runner-up Star Walk in the race and he will enjoy the endurance test and also won’t care about the lay of the course. He doesn’t look flawless, but the talent is there. Winner of the Blue Riband Trial Nahanni compose his team.
Among the protagonists, I am a fan of Piz Badile and his price appeals more than that of the great favorite.
The concert hall can play the Oaks tune
Could another piece of history be written at Epsom on Friday? Hollie Doyle breaks down all barriers with her phenomenal talent and if she wins the Cazoo Oaks on Nashwa the record-breaking rider would be the first woman to ride the winner of a British Classic.
It is not, however, a fairy tale; Nashwa is second only to his stable mate Emily Upjohn in the market at 4:1 with Sky Bet and progressing with each race.
Musidora winner Emily Upjohn was all the rage heading into the reunion, but even money doesn’t float my boat from a betting perspective, despite her obvious credentials.
John and Thady Gosden, who train the two protagonists in the market, cannot rest on their laurels, however, with Aidan O’Brien looking to saddle a remarkable tenth race winner.
Concert hall, Tuesday, Thoughts of June and foreign The Algarve are still in Friday’s race for the maestro of Ballydoyle.
Concert Hall is a 15/2 shot and his third in the Irish 1000 Guineas behind monster racehorse that is Homeless Songs and his stable mate on Tuesday looked like a perfect try. Her dam, Was, won the Oaks for O’Brien in 2012 and this daughter of Dubawi is by far the best of her offspring. She has strong claims to carry on the family tradition and is easy to plead her case.
Lester apparently used to phone a trainer before a big race and just say “I’ll ride yours.” We’ll never know what numbers the big man would have had on the speed dial this time around. My thoughts and those of all the riders will be with him this weekend.