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03 June 2021

John Leeper has Dettori on his side, with emotional Derby day in prospect

03 June 2021

Ed Dunlop is delighted to have old ally Frankie Dettori on his side at the 11th hour as he puts the final touches to John Leeper’s bid for the Cazoo Derby

Dunlop approached Dettori some time ago – but it looked for all money that the 50-year-old would be aboard High Definition, for Aidan O’Brien.

When the Ballydoyle trainer announced on Wednesday that Bolshoi Ballet would be his only runner in the blue riband, with stable number one Ryan Moore aboard, Dunlop wasted no time in contacting Dettori at the request of owner Cristina Patino.

What a fairytale it would be too if Dettori can guide John Leeper to victory on Saturday. He partnered his dam Snow Fairy in the same red and yellow colours to triumph in her very last race, the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.

Dettori is a two-time Derby winner, as was Dunlop’s late father John – after whom Snow Fairy’s offspring by Frankel is named.

Snow Fairy and Frankie Dettori after their victory in the Irish Champion Stakes in 2012 (PA Archive)

“Mrs Patino instructed me after the news about Ballydoyle only running one,” said Dunlop.

“I approached Frankie very early on. He rides a lot for Aidan O’Brien now in England. He was presuming he was going to ride for Aidan, and obviously that hasn’t transpired.

“I was asked by Mrs Patino to see whether he was available to ride the horse. He rode Snow Fairy in the Arc and he won the Irish Champion on her, so he knows the mother well.”

Dettori got the leg-up John Leeper for the first time on Thursday, and all went well.

“Frankie rode him this morning. He gave him a canter up Warren Hill – and he was pleased with him – so it’s all systems go, hopefully,” said Dunlop.

John Leeper will be ridden by Adam Kirby in next month's Derby

“I’ve spoken to Frankie since the draw, and he’s happy to be drawn up there in stall 12 rather than down the bottom, and now we just hope for the best.”

Dettori was impressed with John Leeper, saying: “He’s a lovely big horse that fills the eye, and we’re hopefully yet to see the best of him. His form up until now is good, but the Derby is a big step up – and we’ll only know on Saturday afternoon if he’s good enough.

“Funnily enough, I thought his ears were just like Snow Fairy’s, but he’s much bigger than she was, and his stride is much more like a Frankel. You can certainly see the mix between the two great horses, and hopefully he turns out to be nearly as good as one of them.”

As for coming in for the ride at the expense of Adam Kirby, Dettori told his Sporting Index blog: “I was pencilled in to ride for Aidan in the Derby, but the news came out that he only had one runner, and I was then contacted by the Ed Dunlop team about John Leeper.

“I feel very sorry for Adam. He’s done most of the work on the horse and rode him (in a gallop) at Epsom last week – I can’t stress that enough.

Adam Kirby now rides Adayar in the Derby after being replaced by Frankie Dettori on John Leeper (PA Archive)

“It’s not nice to be taken off a horse three days before the Derby. But it’s not my decision – I don’t pay the bills, and it’s an offer you can’t refuse as a jockey.

“It was a strange feeling, and I certainly didn’t come home with a happy face on Thursday because it’s not the way you want to get rides – but it is what it is, and we have to move on. I didn’t go looking for it – it just came to me. I know the owners very well, having ridden Snow Fairy a few times, and am still very grateful to pick up the ride.”

Kirby’s anguish at being jocked off John Leeper has been tempered with the news he will ride Adayar for Charlie Appleby. Champion jockey Oisin Murphy had been down to take the mount.

Dunlop reports his Derby contender to be in tip-top condition.

“The horse is in good form. We’re very happy with him,” he said.

“There’s another two days to go – so long may that continue – but we’re very pleased with the way he is.”

The Newmarket handler is confident there will be no problems with the ground – which after a dry spell will be much different to conditions when he took John Leeper for a spin round the track last week.

“For the Epsom Derby, the ground is always beautiful,” he said.

“Obviously, they’ve kept a fresh strip for the Derby. There is a hint of some rain coming on Friday. They might get a few millimetres, but I’ve seen they are watering away at Epsom, so I’m sure it will be beautiful ground for all of them.

It will be a very emotional day and for the owner, who named the horse after my father

“We went to (the event formerly known as) Breakfast With The Stars when it was very soft ground. Now it’s drying up, the grass is growing is very well, I’m sure there will be a lovely cover.”

The day is certain to be full of emotion for everyone connected with John Leeper.

“It will be a very emotional day and for the owner, who named the horse after my father,” Dunlop added.

“Let us hope the horse doesn’t let us down, but we’ll dust ourselves off if it doesn’t happen. He’s a horse that hopefully has got a very decent future ahead of him, and this is the first stage of it.”

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