Doyle praises absent Dettori as brave Big Orange prevails in epic
Royal Ascot has missed Frankie Dettori, and Frankie Dettori has no doubt missed Royal Ascot, but the sport's greatest showman was not forgotten in the aftermath of a truly epic Gold Cup.
Dettori, forced to cry off all rides on Tuesday morning with a shoulder injury, has missed four winners already. However, his advice on how to ride Big Orange was instrumental in the giant six-year-old's victory and grateful stand-in James Doyle made sure everyone knew about it as he savoured success in Britain's premier staying race, on Britain's most popular stayer.
Big Orange was trying two and a half miles for the first time after back-to-back doubles in the Princess of Wales's Stakes and the Goodwood Cup, but an attendance of 68,320 (up from 64,503 last year, boosted by the opening of the new Village Enclosure) watched as Doyle sent him on with more than a circuit to go.
There initially seemed to be an air of inevitability about the outcome when Ryan Moore launched last year's winner Order Of St George with a long run on the outside, but Big Orange was gutsier than ever, and although he repelled the 5-6 favourite by just a short head he looked as if he was always just holding on, with the pair finishing six lengths clear of St Leger winner Harbour Law.
"Frankie is a real star and was on the phone for 20 minutes a couple of nights ago," said Doyle, who had the pleasure of riding Michael Bell and Bill Gredley's pride and joy for the first time. "He said don't interfere with him. He knows what speed he wants to go at, so you just sit as a passenger. I'd better buy him a drink – more than one probably!"
Doyle added: "We were a little bit concerned when we heard that Roger Charlton's horse [Quest For More] was going to go on, and he led us for a couple of furlongs, but I was thinking 'I'm interfering with him, and I shouldn't be' and so let him go to the front and he pricked his ears nicely.
"He got a little bit lonely out in front and I think if something had joined him sooner he would have won more impressively. It's a long way to be in front and it's plenty of time to be lonely, but Order Of George was just lugging into him and that gave him a wake-up call.
"That was amazing. I didn't know I was going to be on him until a couple of mornings ago and he's a real people's champ. It was just a pleasure to ride him. He's a proper old-fashioned stayer who wears his heart on his sleeve. A real battle-heartened champion."
Bell has never gone out of fashion, but it's probably fair to say he has seldom hit the pinnacle since Motivator's Derby and Sariska's Oaks.
But Big Orange has taken him all over the world, including to Australia for two Melbourne Cups, to Meydan for two Dubai Gold Cups, and to Sha Tin for a Hong Kong Vase, and so has been a massive part of his life for the last four seasons.
Summing up what Big Orange means to him after being congratulated by Aidan O'Brien and the Ballydoyle team, who offered no excuse for Order Of St George, Bell said: "He's just an absolute superstar who gives his all and has a heart as big as himself. He wants to race and he's a colossal racehorse. On fast ground in the height of the summer he's a monster.
"I can't describe the feeling of pride in the horse. He's a superstar and we're extremely lucky to train him."
He added: "We were happy to do the donkeywork as you have to let him use his stride. I was very happy throughout as James looked in total charge of the situation, but then towards the finish I was praying the winning post would come in time and thankfully it did."
Gredley gave huge credit to Bell and his staff and ranked Big Orange's Gold Cup win alongside User Friendly's victories in the Oaks, the Irish Oaks and the Yorkshire Oaks.
He added: "She was a good horse and let's hope they keep coming."
Gredley's second with Ronald R in the Britannia just 40 minutes later confirmed that they are indeed still coming, and it's not as if Big Orange is finished. Far from it.
Bell said: "He'll head back to Goodwood and he won't run again before then. He's not going for the Melbourne Cup, that's for sure as he'll be rated 121 and so handicapped out of it.
"He could come back here for Champions Day, or he could go for the Cadran. He'll go where the ground is fast."
Let's hope the sun keeps shining then, for there are few finer sights than Big Orange in full flow.