Seven years to the day after saddling his 23rd Classic winner Henry Cecil was given a heroes welcome at Epsom today after Light Shift had given him a record equalling eighth Vodafone Oaks and a 24th Classic in total.
The intervening seven years have been anything but happy for Cecil, both in his personal life and on the racecourse. A virus among his horses and the fact that his core patron, the old money owner-breeder, has become an endangered species has seen his numbers and, accordingly, success dwindle to a trickle.
But you dont just start training badly and signs of the comeback, despite the trainer being treated through the winter for cancer, were evident before this meeting got underway. With the favourite, Passage of Light, and the marginally less fancied Light Shift in the race, it was just like old times for Cecil.
Light Shift, owned and bred by the Niarchos family who have supported Cecil since the early 80s, was taken wide round Tattenham Corner to avoid the rough and tumble of the pack by her jockey Ted Durcan who, in stark contrast to Cecil, was winning his first ever Classic.
He hit the front three out and looked to have built up an unassailable lead but Peeping Fawn, one of the four runners in the race trained by Aidan OBrien, emerged from the pack and looked like catching her. Light Shift found more and battled home to win by half a length with four back to All My Loving.
After being given three cheers several times Cecil said: I really appreciate all the support Ive had. Its lovely to be back — its a funny feeling, almost embarrassing. I was very worried when the other filly came to her. I didnt favour one filly over the other but Passage of Time didnt appear to stay.
Frankie Dettori did not enjoy the best preparation for his 15th attempt at winning the Derby. Sixties Icon, the favourite, finished plum last in the Coronation Cup in which Aidan OBrien was first and second with Scorpion and Septimus. His ride in the Oaks, Measured Tempo, only beat one horse home.
1. Light Shift (T E Durcan) 13-2
2. Peeping Fawn (Martin Dwyer) 20-1
3. All My Loving (C Soumillon) 5-1
Don’t miss H&H Derby report online after the race tomorrow, plus indepth analysis of all the action from Epsom in next Thursday’s magazine (7 June, ’07)