My day with the great Betfred Derby hope who’s ready for the run of his life: Fanshawe’s laid-back star Ambiente Friendly in top shape ahead of biggest test

It is 6.15am on Wednesday when the main man emerges on to Warren Hill, Newmarket’s fabled schooling ground.

Usually this place hums with the repetitive thrum of hooves but, at this hour, there is barely a soul around. It is why this fellow catches us by surprise, stalking up behind panther-like. He has got four of his ‘mates’ with him but you can tell he is different, as his bay coat gleams in the sun.

The good ones always stand out and Ambiente Friendly, trained by James Fanshawe and one of the favourites for Saturday’s Betfred Derby, is certainly good. Time may show he is exceptional but, for now, we are watching intently as the sheen is applied to his Epsom preparations.

This has been a six-month project, which began with nothing more strenuous than trotting three to four times a week in January, and he looks in peak condition for the biggest test in Flat racing but there is still work to be done. So, with a click of the reins, his big-race jockey Rab Havlin sends him on his way.

Four days out from Epsom, Ambiente Friendly is not asked to engage top gear. It is a stiff climb up the half mile from the bottom to the top of Warren Hill but this colt seems to float across the surface and to watch him do this is mesmerising. He is so smooth he would not make a splash if the surface underneath was water.

Ambiente Friendly is one of the firm favourites for Saturday's Betfred Derby

Ambiente Friendly is one of the firm favourites for Saturday’s Betfred Derby

He does this routine twice before heading back through the woods, across town, to Fanshawe’s Pegasus Stables. This has been Fanshawe’s home since September 1988 and its history clings to you as you walk around.

It was built by Fred Archer, the multiple champion jockey and five-time Derby winner, in 1884. Archer was a tortured genius who took his own life two years later and legend has it that his ghost has been seen in the yard. Fanshawe smiles about that but there is no time for spooky stories when you are preparing to saddle only your second runner in the Derby.

The first, in 1991, was Environment Friend owned by Bill Gredley, a man who has lived a life less ordinary. He has never been afraid to fly in the face of convention — he bought nine horses on his 90th birthday, one of which was Ambiente Friendly — and he has certainly done that in recent weeks.

Gredley took Callum Shepherd off his horse in favour of Havlin, leaving the young jockey heartbroken. Shepherd had partnered Ambiente Friendly to an eye-catching success in the Lingfield Derby Trial and invested so much work in him. It caused a kerfuffle but dwelling on the situation will do no good for anyone. 

So Fanshawe has pressed ahead since Gredley made his call and Havlin has sat on Ambiente Friendly at every opportunity, including last Sunday when he had his final workout over a mile. Havlin, who has ridden more than 1,200 winners, wore a smile afterwards that said everything.

It has been a project which began with trotting three to four times a week in January

It has been a project which began with trotting three to four times a week in January

‘Usually, I like to gallop horses a week before their designated race but we had so much rain last Thursday and Friday that the Limekilns (gallops) were shut,’ Fanshawe said. ‘The Jockey Club were very accommodating in allowing us to use the round gallop on Sunday.’

Everything needs to go right when preparing a horse for Epsom and to this juncture it has been the case. Fanshawe is relaxed when we see him on Wednesday, so much so he allows us in to Ambiente Friendly winding down.

He spends 10 minutes nibbling at grass, oblivious to the click-click-clicking camera of Mail Sport photographer Andy Hooper, before Andy Sansome, one of Fanshawe’s trusted staff, leads him back into his box.

‘If you were here later and put your head in the stable, he’d be doing one of two things,’ said Sansome. ‘Eating or sleeping. He’s so laid back, like all the good ones.’

But Ambiente Friendly comes alive on the course and Fanshawe has nurtured him beautifully. From a Leicester maiden last September through to here, the 62-year-old has not missed a beat.

‘It’s a real privilege to have a horse good enough to be going to the Derby with a chance,’ says Fanshawe, who has trained multiple Group One winners.

Ambiente Friendly is in peak condition and look ready for the run of his life

 Ambiente Friendly is in peak condition and look ready for the run of his life 

‘He won his trial well and seems to have come out of the race in good shape. There is a real buzz in the yard having a Derby contender. We are just trying to make sure these last four days go smoothly and we can take in everything about a special occasion.

‘The Derby has been going for 245 years and stood the test of time. It looks an open race. There will be horses that improve no end for running in the trials, so there will be lots of people going there thinking they have got a good chance.’

Not least the connections of Ambiente Friendly. He is ready to run for his life — the early-morning call proved as much.

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