From the archives: Epsom electrified as Light Shift wins Oaks for Henry Cecil
First published on Saturday, June 2, 2007
The general public may want a Frankie Dettori victory in the Derby today, but the racing public certainly got what they wanted yesterday when Henry Cecil recaptured the Vodafone Oaks.
After seven years in a relative racing wilderness, the ten-time champion trainer, who dominated the sport in the 1980s and 1990s, was back where he belonged, basking in the afterglow of a Classic triumph even he feared he might never experience again.
With the favourite Passage Of Time in his stable, the champagne was already on ice at Epsom yesterday, but when the corks were popped, it was to salute her stablemate Light Shift, who delivered an eighth Oaks and a 24th British Classic victory to one of racing's greatest and most enduringly popular figures.
To exuberant applause from a crowd of 23,000 and a 'three cheers for Henry', rarely heard in any big-race arena, an emotional Cecil summed up the occasion in just six words. "I feel I am back again."
Thanks to the unstinting support of patrons like owner Maria Niarchos-Gouaze, daughter of the late racing magnate Stavros Niarchos, Cecil, 64, proved he could still compete at the top.
Reflecting on the recent past, Cecil said: "I didn't expect to win another Classic, but I was aware that a lot of my owner-breeders had given up, cut down or died.
"I had very seldom bought a horse and was not very good on my PR. If it were not for some very loyal owners and top breeders I don't think I would be here now.
"It's very satisfying to come back and win a race like this. I really enjoyed it. It gives me the incentive to go on and do it again. Everyone has been so supportive, I can't tell you how much I appreciate it."
Light Shift had beaten Aidan O'Brien's main Oaks hope All My Loving when landing the Cheshire Oaks, and she denied the Irish another clean sweep in a major race when repelling another Ballydoyle rival, Peeping Fawn. They were followed home by another three Irish fillies, All My Loving, Four Sins and Cherry Hinton. Passage Of Time, the 9-4 favourite, finished eighth.
Urged to the front with a quarter of a mile to run, Light Shift quickened clear, and when Peeping Fawn challenged from the back she found enough reserves to hold on by half a length, providing jockey Ted Durcan with his first Classic win.
Durcan said: "It was a rough race, and this filly might not be big but she is brave. I hoped Four Sins would take me to the furlong and a half marker, but in the end I went on sooner than I wanted. She picked up again when the second came to her and nothing would have got past.
"I was slightly worried the rain had ruined her chance, but Henry pulled me to one side in the week and said she would handle the ground, as all the family had. I owe him and the Niarchos family a lot for letting me ride a horse like that."
While Passage Of Time was suffering a well-publicised throat abscess, Cecil, who shared the occasion with his 13-year-old son Jake, confessed Light Shift's preparations had not gone without a hitch.
"Last week she twisted an ankle and was very sore for a few days, and with Passage Of Time's abscess it has not been plain sailing," he said. "I think Passage Of Time didn't stay.
"I came here very relaxed and sure the fillies were better than they had ever been. I thought I had got the job done as long as I didn't put the wrong saddle on, which in the old days I did when I had had a drink!
"I've not decided where Light Shift will run next. Maria did say how much she loved this filly when she sent her to me, and that she was going to win the Oaks. She must have a crystal ball."
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