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Saturday, June 25, 2022

A platinum derby

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For decades, as the date for the Epsom Derby approached in early June, the question from fans was, “Who is Lester riding?” Lester Piggott (the long companion, the teacher) was not only regarded as the best driver of his century, but above all as the great classic specialist among the classics. The Epsom track, with its waves and ups and downs, isn’t a mile and a half like the others: keep the horse balanced through the course, don’t tire it too early or keep it so busy that it doesn’t make it to the finish on time , requires a combination of softness and energy available only to a privileged few. Many good jockeys have waited their lives for this occasion and never won the Derby: Lester won it nine times and the Oaks, the mare test on the same course, six times, a record that not only seems insurmountable but even hard to beat. He won his first derby in 1954, when he was 18, on the beautifully named horse never say die and the last over teenagerin 1983. Long life between them and beyond jockey this made him a living myth, a Newmarket legend he symbolized in more than 30 countries where horsemanship competed in all its magical potency. He had the luxury of choosing the horse he wanted to ride in his favorite show, and sometimes he abused that privilege a little. All sorts of gossip and anecdotes were told about him, from his deafness and incurable scarcity to his incessant miserliness. He even spent some time in prison for failing to pay taxes due on his overseas earnings: he got out of prison in his 50s, got his license to ride (not kill) back, and within 12 days won it Mile of the Breeder’s Cup, perhaps his most perfect mount. He was not lacking in a certain dry and sharp sense of humour: when a journalist asked him after two years in prison how he was going to ride from now on, he replied “well, like before: one leg on each side”.

Lester had retired from racing for decades, but this year his name was prominent in Derby week again: he died at his Swiss retreat on Sunday, six days before the Grand Prix, aged 86. Some old fans don’t find it odd to think of that first derby he won’t even watch on TV anymore. And also that the happiest and drunkest faction that surrounds us in Epsom today was born when he had already stopped riding. However, this 2022 Derby has another experienced and legendary protagonist, Queen Elizabeth, who is celebrating her platinum wedding anniversary to the English throne she has sat on for 70 years. For the enthusiastic world of Lawn, queen is our most important monarch. In each of the countries we have different official kings and queens that we respect (don’t think we’re from Podemos or Bildu) but what is referred to as queen is primarily Elizabeth of Windsor who was a teenage owner gloriolethe breeder of dumbbell, the owner of one of the most traditional European riding stables, but who has never won the Derby. The one we know visits Epsom or Ascot with the same passionate devotion as any of us, every time. He confessed long ago, when there were no horse shows on Sundays for Anglican reasons, that “if it weren’t for my Archbishop of Canterbury I would fly to Longchamp every Sunday”. Before Epsom Day began, 40 riders who had ridden for them for half a century paraded the track in their purple and gold jackets. Lester was missing, of course, who won with his Hover the oaks in these same meadows. But not only them tourists We appreciate the queen. Elizabeth II is a rare case, a ruler who, after a long tenure, enjoys the reverence of her citizens far more than the monarchy she represents. In these centenary days we have seen several mass gatherings in his honor, with many of those attending, of all ages – among British flags and other patriotic symbols – carrying a small banner with the simplest of slogans. “Many Thanks“, Thank you. Can not say more or better.

When we enter the expanse Hall Standing out from the racetrack is a series of drawings by Chulapos from Madrid, who, with their hats, scarves and tight jackets, seem as if they have escaped a zarzuela. There are also signs that say “Madrí” no less than “extraordinary”. I later learn that it is an advertisement for a beer brand that wants to gain prestige by having the name of Europe’s fashion city on its coat of arms. How can you say that the English do not read our progressive press and therefore ignore the sufferings of the people of Madrid under the tyranny of another Isabel, but this one not from Windsor but from Chamberí! They trust how much fun they will have visiting us and they live betrayed… The horses of the great race this year, as always, represented the best of each house and family of riders, sons of Galileo, frankel, Be the Stars whose remarkable memory gives us a little shudder of ecstasy in those of us who saw her walk. The top favorite was the winner crown of the desert, a son of Nathanael (i.e. brother of the champion Enable), coached by Sir Michael Stoute, one of the greats who some thought was written off at 76 but has much to teach those who believe he’s in charge. Its driver was also something of a veteran, Richard Kingscote (born July 1986, a month after Rafa Nadal), a distinguished professional but who never shone among the most glamorous of the prestigious tribe. Perhaps the most amusing thing about the outcome of this derby is that the drivers of the first three cleared drivers – Kingscote himself, David Probert and Rob Hornby – are faces of the most well known and respected, but none of them are those who can afford to travel by private plane .

Finally, in the unfading excitement of the glorious moment, for some of us who are not so young, there lingers a sad aftertaste. The Queen we were so looking forward to was eventually unable to attend due to ill health, which does not bode well as she has only been absent twice in her 70-year reign (not counting forced absences due to Covid confinement). And Lester Piggott will never walk his iconic racetrack before the race held in his memory this year. As the derby got underway, hidden beneath the shouts of the fans, I yelled, as I so often do, “keep going Lester!“. And then already whispering: “never say die“.

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