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30 years after the famous Saudi victory, the Epsom Downs Derby remains the pinnacle of British horse racing
LONDON: The past 15 months have been an uncertain and troubling time for horse racing.
Like all sports, it couldn’t escape the chaos caused by the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
But few venues will be better received by those involved in the sport than the horses coming out of the gates in front of a crowd, albeit limited, at the Epsom Downs Racecourse Derby on Saturday.
Despite occasional detractors throughout its 240-year history, the Blue Ribbon of horse racing remains the most prestigious British classic on the calendar and few races are as entrenched in the collective consciousness of the public as the Derby.
For longtime trainer Paul Cole of the successful Whatcombe estate, this is still the “biggest” classics up for grabs, and he should know it.
This year’s race marks the 30th anniversary of a glorious Saudi triumph in the 1991 race, when Generous kicked off what would prove to be a remarkable summer coming home for Cole’s only victory in the race. and the first and only victory for Saudi owner Prince Fahd. ben Salman.
Cole called the victory a “wonderful thing” for himself and his family, but also for the prince, with whom he had a long and fruitful relationship, both personally and professionally.
Cole, who since March last year held a joint training license at Whatcombe with his son Oliver, said Généreux’s training to victory three decades ago was “fantastic” because he was doing it. for someone like Prince Fahd who “really enjoyed the race” and he meant a lot.
“He was devoted to the people around him, very charming with fantastic manners. He invested his money to enjoy his horses, and luckily I have been involved for twenty years or so with his attitude of excitement, fun and trying to get a good horse.
“He loved people, he loved horses and he loved the excitement. He had a big, big influence in my life, ”he added.
The prince had been introduced to horse racing by his stepfather, the late Prince Khalid bin Abdullah, who owned the now iconic Juddmonte Farms operation in Newmarket and who also won victories for Saudi Arabia in the Derby on Quest for Fame (1990), Commander-in-Chief (1993) and Manpower (2010).
Prince Khalid connected Prince Fahd with Cole and the two bought Whatcombe in Oxfordshire together in 1987, and although Cole was already an established coach, it was Prince Fahd who raised the level of the estate.
“I was doing great but without him there wouldn’t have been any quality so he provided the quality and Anthony Penfold was his manager and we used to buy the horses together,” Cole said. .
The British coach remained Prince Fahd’s man of choice until his death in 2001, something which Cole said “took the heart of the operation (Whatcombe)”, adding “it was a terrible shock and it was difficult to start over “.
Despite the tinge of sadness, Cole still remembers the day with fond memories and believes the Derby remains the toughest test for any three-year-old middle distance colt.
He said: “What you have to do is line it up with other races, and the only race I think you could line it up with is the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. The Arc is a great race, while the Derby is the best of the generation, it’s more of a test.
“The English derby is a test of everything, a speed test, it’s an endurance test, you have to know how to manage the turns and take the pressure to prepare early enough in the year.
And, for Cole, it’s the race every coach dreams of winning, given how much she is regarded not just in the sport but even outside of it.
“It’s such a fantastic race, and for the people, even if we don’t know which side of the horse is which, the Derby remains interesting,” he adds.
Saudi racing fans can look for John Leeper, coached by Ed Dunlop, fathered by the great Frankel, owned and raised by Prince Khalid in Juddmonte. But hopes for another Arab-owned winner in this year’s race will rest with the United Arab Emirates, with three Godolphin charges at Adayar, Hurricane Lane and One Ruler.
Third Realm also races for Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al-Maktoum and Youth Spirit for Emirati Ahmad Al-Shaikh.
But whichever horse crosses the line first at Epsom on Saturday afternoon, their victory will be made in history and become another chapter of what Cole calls “the best race in the world.”