I had to cast my mind back 13 years to conjure up a more impressive image.
The doubts beforehand were natural, although he had won three out of three. The easy maiden success at Phoenix Park meant nothing, Pat Eddery had needed to roust him up in the Railway Stakes and although he looked a bit more professional in the National Stakes, he scored by less than a length over a lightly regarded filly who started at 33-1. After the National - only a Group 2 then - Vincent O'Brien said that he would now put El Gran Senor away for the winter, but there had been a change of plan. And because the Ballydoyle maestro had already won six Dewhursts, including one with the colt's brother Try My Best, the public took the hint; he went off a solid 7-4 favourite.
He gave a very taking display, coming through smoothly to assume command from the Prix Morny hero Siberian Express at the quarter pole, holding a two-length advantage entering the Dip. After that, Eddery's task was all about keeping his idling mount's mind on the job while Rainbow Quest delivered a resolute challenge. He had half a length to spare at the line, looking - to me - value for a fair bit more. Confirmation of a fast time and the six-length gap to third-placed Siberian Express made the performance seem all the more impressive.
So why were the bookmakers now offering 10-1 about El Gran Senor for the Guineas? It could have had something to do with the fact that none of the Dewhurst winners of the previous five years had managed to win any kind of race afterwards, or that Try My Best had finished stone last of 19 in his Classic bid, but neither seemed to represent a logical reason for dismissing such a convincing display. Still, there were many better judges than me around, and if 10-1 was not going to tempt them, I would leave it alone.
Inevitably, the tens did not last long, but there was still plenty of 8-1 available over the winter, while Champagne Stakes winner Lear Fan held sway in the market, but it was all very different when Guineas day arrived. El Gran Senor had come back with a ready triumph over stablemate Sadler's Wells in the Gladness Stakes, while Lear Fan, on his seasonal debut, had been all out to resist Rainbow Quest by a short head in the Craven Stakes.
Punters had distrusted the 1983 International Classifications, which placed El Gran Senor on top, 1lb ahead of Rainbow Quest, with Lear Fan a further 3lb behind, but the form book was now indicating that the official handicappers had probably been right. I couldn't see El Gran Senor being beaten and I was with the majority. He was favourite at 15-8 and the only others at single-figure odds were 7-2 shots Lear Fan and Keen - a brother to Kris and Diesis - and Rainbow Quest, available at 11-2. Having failed to take the 10-1 when it was offered, I was not going to get involved now, although after paddock inspections and monitoring the market moves, the outcome was more obvious than ever. Lear Fan had drifted from 2-1, which ruled him out, Keen was too inexperienced and Rainbow Quest was going to need a longer distance. The other five just did not seem up to the task.
El Gran Senor was brilliant that day, giving a performance that had me racking my brains for a comparable display over a mile. I had to cast my mind back to Brigadier Gerard, successful in the same Classic 13 years earlier, to conjure up a more impressive image.
Held up, going easily, the Northern Dancer colt cruised past trail-blazing Lear Fan inside the last two furlongs, drew alongside new leader Chief Singer and was already destined for a ready victory when Eddery suggested that he might like to turn the race into an exhibition. Instantly answering the call, El Gran Senor darted clear to win by two and a half lengths. The massive Chief Singer was four lengths clear of Lear Fan at the finish, where Rainbow Quest and Keen arrived at three-length intervals.
There was no need for confirmation that El Gran Senor had put up a magnificent performance, but we got it just the same. Chief Singer ran away with the St James's Palace Stakes and followed that with victories in the July Cup and Sussex Stakes. Lear Fan gave a dominant display in the Prix Jacques le Marois.
Much as I admired El Gran Senor, I had always had my doubts about his being a Derby horse and the Guineas just confirmed that view. I figured that a colt as brilliant as that over a mile was never going to be so good over an extra half-mile. Of course, he might not have to be to win at the trip, but he would now be a silly price for Epsom and I began the search for one to beat him.
IN THOSE days The Sporting Life rightly recognised that I was no tipster and required only one selection a year from me. That was on Derby day, which generally served to indicate why I was not trusted to forecast winners on other days of the year. In 1984 I was also moonlighting as English correspondent for an American publication, the Thoroughbred Record, which had an early deadline for my Derby preview, so there was urgent need to nominate a credible alternative to El Gran Senor.
I don't recall now exactly how I managed to make a case for Secreto. But he had won his only race at two, he had scored at Group 3 level on his return and had finished a close third to Sadler's Wells and Procida in the Irish 2,000 Guineas, a display which suggested that he would be well suited by a longer trip. When I faxed my copy to the States, I consoled myself with the thought that nobody there was going to back my eccentric 33-1 shot anyway.
But I also had to recognise that some Sporting Life readers might have read my Thoroughbred Record piece before the big day, so I could hardly change my selection. I was bound to tip Secreto again and some mugs might just trust my judgement. If there was some saving grace, it was that the colt's price had halved recently so I wouldn't seem quite so daft in making him my choice.
Of course, it is history now how El Gran Senor drew to the front on a tight rein in the Epsom straight and Secreto had to be driven hard to remain in contention, how Eddery found no response when he asked for the favourite's trademark turn of foot, and how Secreto, under extreme punishment from Christy Roche, nailed him in the last few strides.
It was amusing, the following day, to read that one of the few professionals to have backed Secreto was Phil Bull, because I rather doubt that he wound up a winner on the race. I had stayed with him for the York May meeting, when he told me that he had had a substantial bet on El Gran Senor after the Guineas; after the Dante, which uncovered no potential danger, he doubled it. If he retrieved something out of Secreto, I'm sure it would not have been because of my rare inspired guess.
El Gran Senor ran only once more, winning the Irish Derby in some style to refute the suggestion that he did not truly get a mile and a half. But he was not the superstar at that trip that he certainly was at a mile.
In addition to being a brilliant miler, El Gran Senor was also as handsome a colt as Northern Dancer ever got, apart from one blemish that many horsemen will not tolerate. He had arrived at Ballydoyle straight off the stud, having been bred in partnership by Robert Sangster. I once asked Vincent O'Brien whether he would have bought him if he had appeared at a yearling sale.
The great man gave me a candid "No". That parrot mouth would have put him off.
El Gran Senor puts in a magnificent performance to run away with the 2,000 Guineas in 1984
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|Publication:||The Racing Post (London, England)|
|Date:||Feb 5, 2011|
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