Beware of Nell Gwyn gossip

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As anyone in Newmarket will tell you, this week will see the seasonal debut of this year's Derby winner, not to mention both the Guineas winners and the latest sprinting sensation. They are probably right, too, but there is still one slight problem to be overcome before we can all set about ruining our bookies. Ask 10 different people, and you will get 30 different names.

If over-optimism were a criminal offence, 99 per cent of the population at Flat racing's Headquarters would currently be behind bars, with the remainder being that tiny minority who will actually be proved correct. And after each Classic, do not be surprised if every last one of them appears from nowhere to tell you smugly, "of course, I backed him before he ran at the Craven meeting".

Enjoy these days of hope and anticipation, for they will not be with us for long. Remember too that, on the opening day of the Craven meeting at least, the obvious place to look for a future Classic winner is not necessarily the best. The Nell Gwyn Stakes is generally held to be one of the most significant trials for the 1,000 Guineas, but while eight of today's 11 runners are entered for the fillies' Classic, the latest betting gives only one, Bint Salsabil, a serious chance in the fillies' Classic.

History, too, is on the side of the doubters, since no Nell Gwyn winner has followed up in the Guineas since Oh So Sharp in 1985, and while 15 runners have gone on to contest the Classic during the 1990s, only Sayyedati, who was third in the trial in 1993, has succeeded. These days, it seems, the best fillies wait for the Fred Darling at Newbury or, just as probably, arrive back from a revitalising winter in Dubai shortly before Guineas day itself.

Certainly, with Bosra Sham and Blue Duster solidly rooted at the top of the betting, it will require a performance of considerable merit today if their supporters are to start entertaining doubts. Parentage implies that Bint Salsabil, by Nashwan out of Salsabil, the 1990 Guineas and Oaks winner, might be the one to do it, but fine breeding did not do Lord Lucan much good and on the balance of her form, Bint Salsabil has achieved surprisingly little.

A 3lb penalty is also no help, and Mezzogiorno (next best 3.40) is a realistic alternative. Geoff Wragg's filly was runner-up in the Houghton Sales Stakes over course and distance last year, and is the subject of encouraging mutterings in the pubs and clubs of Newmarket.

So too has John Gosden's Sacho, to such an extent that he is now a 16- 1 chance for the Derby even though he has yet to win so much as a maiden. Sacho should rectify that in today's final race, but wise punters will listen carefully to the trainer's assessment of Sacho's chance and potential.

"The Flat season is very difficult at this time of the year," Gosden said yesterday. "It goes dead after Doncaster but people have still got to write about something, and as soon as you put a decent jockey on a horse and it finishes a gallop half a length up it gets written up. People don't know what the work instructions are or even what it's working with. If I told you what the lead horse was, it might be rated 75 and you'd think, what terrible work.

"I've always believed that they have to do it on the track. Sacho is OK at this stage but he's very lazy in his work. I would see a great deal of improvement in him and I wouldn't be surprised if he got beaten tomorrow. The other thing you've got to remember is that some horses will work like a dream in the morning, but come the afternoon you can't find them with a search warrant."

With 15 unexposed opponents today, Sacho is certainly not one to back with abandon, but a horse of considerable promise who is worth a bet is PASSION FOR LIFE (nap 3.05). Geoff Lewis chose the Abernant Stakes as the starting point for Lake Coniston's climb to the top of the sprinting ladder last year, and Passion For Life, who trotted up in a Kempton handicap 11 days ago, is improving so rapidly that he must be followed until he is beaten.

Other worthwhile bets are thin on the ground - Sanmartino, last year's Ebor Handicap winner, will be far too short in the stayers' handicap -but Jerry Cutrona (4.45) is worth a small interest later in the afternoon.