Ascot has been generous to Frankie Dettori throughout his quarter-century in the saddle but the grand stage, the moment and the script have rarely combined with such sympathy as in the closing stages of Thursday's Gold Cup. Dettori is still much closer to the end of his riding career than the beginning but, thanks to a hard-fought success on Colour Vision, not quite as close as it seemed on Thursday morning.
Dettori arrived at Ascot with just a single winner from 42 rides in June, a strike-rate of 2%. He was riding at Haydock instead of at Epsom on Derby day earlier this month and had seen a series of high-profile rides for the Godolphin operation – where he is referred to as the senior jockey – pass to Mickaël Barzalona, a rider half his age.
He left with a fifth win in the Royal meeting's feature event to his name and, more significantly, his status and confidence restored, for the moment at least. Barzalona is clearly the coming man at Godolphin but Dettori, true to character, is not going to go quietly.
Colour Vision's win was a triumph for Dettori in every way. He picked the right one from Godolphin's two runners, with the ride on Opinion Poll – the runner-up to Fame And Glory in last year's Gold Cup – passing to Barzalona. And it was Barzalona who ranged up alongside Dettori in the closing stages, only to be beaten off as Colour Vision found the extra stamina that had persuaded Dettori to choose him in the first place.
Despite all the payouts he has earned for them down the years, the Ascot punters decided – albeit narrowly – that Dettori had got it wrong. Colour Vision, running in the race for the first time, was sent off at 6-1 with Opinion Poll a point shorter in the betting, while the great bulk of their cash was riding with Fame And Glory, the 4-5 favourite.
Even inside the final furlong, there were still those who doubted him. By now, Fame And Glory was already a spent force, finding nothing after spending much of the race hemmed in on the rails behind a slow pace.
Dettori had found a much better position on Colour Vision close behind the leaders and could choose his moment to strike in the straight but, even so, he still reached 14-1 in the in-running market on Betfair as Barzalona launched his challenge.
The precarious nature of life as a top jockey, even one who has enjoyed as much success as Dettori, was summed up in the final furlong. The best jobs are so scarce and available so rarely that there will always be a young pretender measuring himself up for your role.
Had Colour Vision faltered and allowed Opinion Poll to get past, it would have been Barzalona who enjoyed a warm embrace from Sheikh Mohammed, Godolphin's founder, in the winner's enclosure. Instead, it was Dettori who received a hug from "the boss" and the balance of power among Godolphin's jockeys shifted a little further away from its tipping point.
The stewards called an inquiry to consider the fact that Colour Vision had interfered with Opinion Poll in the closing stages but took only a few short minutes to confirm that the result would not be altered. The winning margin of half a length was enough to convince them that no injustice had taken place.
"Me and Mickael are great friends," Dettori said, "but you are by yourself when you are out there and you want to win for yourself. It doesn't matter who is in the finish, as you always try to win. This race is gone. I have to do it in the next now."
So, for that matter, does Godolphin, and whether this win marks a turning of the corner or just a brief high point in a frustrating season remains to be seen. This was the first Group One victory for the royal blue silks in Europe this year and only the fourth in all, following a Grade One at Belmont Park in New York and two, including the Dubai World Cup, at Meydan, their "home" track, in March.
Aidan O'Brien has won more Group Ones than Godolphin in Britain alone, despite having nothing like the numerical strength of the Godolphin string, which has at least 300 horses split between Saeed bin Suroor – trainer of Colour Vision – and Mahmood al-Zarooni, who was responsible for Opinion Poll.
Colour Vision is a gelding and so will not be joining the stallions in the Sheikh's Darley Stud operation, while Camelot, O'Brien's standard-bearer this season, is poised to pick up where his late sire, Montjeu, left off as one of the most sought-after stallions at the Coolmore Stud.
"These banner races around the world are what we want to win," Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, said, "and the Gold Cup is the cream of the cream." A Group One-winning colt at eight or 10 furlongs would be even better from a long-term point of view, however, and, with the possible exception of Farhh, who suffered a dreadful run when third in Wednesday's Prince Of Wales's Stakes, their prospects look thin.
Dettori, though, has a more immediate chance to build on this success, when he partners Mick Channon's Laugh Out Loud, one of the market leaders, in the Group One Coronation Stakes on Friday. Barzalona, who rides Irish History in the Godolphin colours, may be about to discover that, when Dettori is on a roll, he is a difficult man to stop.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Paolo Camera