Dettori celebrations cut short as Marsha grabs luckless Lady
One man's misery contrasted with the ecstasy of 10,000 Elite Racing Club members in the immediate moments that followed a thrillingly dramatic Nunthorpe Stakes – Frankie Dettori was certain he had won only to quickly find out he had not.
The Coolmore-sponsored sprint championship had been billed as a head-to-head showdown between American speed machine Lady Aurelia and transformed gelding Battaash.
What we got was not so much a head-to-head battle but one decided by nostril hairs, and although Lady Aurelia lost out, it was not to Battaash but to fellow female Marsha and her partner Luke Morris.
Three weeks ago a famous Stateside sprinter came to Britain and sent onlookers home shocked. Yet while Justin Gatlin returned home in triumph, Lady Aurelia will cross the Atlantic having had snatched from her a victory Dettori not surprisingly believed had been banked.
As Lady Aurelia galloped away from York's winning post the world's most famous jockey punched the air before putting a finger to his lips, the now customary gesture of a winning rider.
In Dettori's defence, even replays of the race suggested he had won, but exchange punters, aided by freeze-frame technology, were instantly sure it was the Sir Mark Prescott-trained Marsha, running in the colours of Elite's mass membership, who had whizzed past the line in front.
When Knavesmire judge Di Clark announced the result of the photo-finish, we all discovered those punters had been right.
For bookmakers the verdict represented a massive swing in their favour, with Lady Aurelia having been backed into 10-11 favouritism. For them the result yielded pleasure. Not so for Dettori, who had also missed out on Lady Aurelia's King's Stand Stakes success due to a fractured shoulder.
When walking back to the weighing room Dettori summed up his emotions perfectly in one short word.
"Ow!" he said. "You saw it yourself. I thought I had won a neck. You've seen it on TV. I'm shocked lads."
He was not the first to have been shocked in such a way.
Indeed, at this very meeting 11 years ago Richard Hills celebrated Group 1 success prematurely when mistakenly thinking he had won the Juddmonte International on Maraahel. Instead he had lost out by a short head – then the minimum margin of victory. The distance that separated Marsha and Lady Aurelia was also the minimum – now a nose.
"It was tough," said Lady Aurelia's trainer Wesley Ward, also second in the Nunthorpe two years ago with Acapulco.
"One of these days I'll have to win it, hopefully next year. She likes the track and has run well on the soft, so I can't make any excuses. It looks like she was just a millimetre away from victory. She's still a true champion.
"Even when Frankie stood up and thought he had won I knew it was going to be close, and I knew it favours the horse nearer the stands in a photo. What are you going to do? It's in the books."
It will stay in the books. Indeed, such was the sporting theatre we witnessed, this may very well merit a book of its own. If it does, there should be a good mention of Elite member Marsha Holliman, who won a competition to give Marsha her name.
"Her mother is called Marlinka, so I thought, 'Why not Marsha?'" explained Holliman.
"I love her immensely. We're so lucky to have her. I read the Racing Post avidly and all I've read has been about Lady Aurelia and Battaash. I was thinking, 'No way!'"
No way, indeed.
"It's amazing," said York's very own Veronica Brown, another one of the cock-a-hoop Elite 10,000.
"I pay less than £200 a year and that money gives you the chance to have this sort of excitement. I've been involved for ten years because once you're hooked you're hooked. What a star she is. I'll be grinning for the rest of the year."
Also grinning was Morris, putting a first domestic Group 1 on his CV.
"That was superb," he said. "It was one of the races of the week, so to come home in front is fantastic."
Prescott also thought it was fantastic, but he was not here to see it, having instead had a long-standing commitment to view Kirsten Rausing's yearlings in Ireland. In his place was Heath House assistant William Butler, also on duty when Marsha took last year's Prix de l'Abbaye.
"There's always a chance when you turn up," he said, and he was right. Prescott did not turn up but, watching from Ireland, decided he had a chance even when Dettori was convinced otherwise.
"She gets on fine without the trainer," joked Prescott. "I thought Frankie was spot on when he felt he had won but when I saw the slow-motion replay I became more hopeful. We got lucky."
Dettori did not. The rest of us, however, got one hell of a race.
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