It is that tantalising time of the year when followers of the Flat await the reappearance of the shiny juvenile reputations of the previous season. More often than not the flowering two-year-old talents end up in a bed of thorns. It is a process known, appropriately enough, as the popping of balloons.
The great Zeppelin 12 months ago belonged to Mujahid, the Dewhurst Stakes winner, who was beaten at odds of 2-5 in the Craven Stakes. The hotshot of 1999, Distant Music, may try his neck on the same Newmarket block a week today.
Barry Hills's unbeaten colt has long been a consideration for the Greenham Stakes at Newbury on Saturday, but the weather has conspired to spoil that particular plan. It was considerably more intemperate than April showers in Berkshire on Tuesday evening with up to two inches of snow, combining with sleet, to change the Newbury going to soft. That is no good to Distant Music, who has been tried on moistened going at home this spring.
It is a shame because, no matter what bathetic disasters have come before, there is always something bewitching about the return of a potential champion. Distant Music won twice at Doncaster last season before his success in the Dewhurst, and it was in the Champagne Stakes at Town Moor that he most made us slaver. The son of Distant View quickened not once but twice, an ability which moved Barry Hills to announce that this was his best two-year-old in over 30 years with a licence.
Now we must wait to see if Distant Music can become another Rheingold, Hills's 1973 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner, or perhaps even more appropriately a Tap On Wood, who transported a young American called Steve Cauthen to 2,000 Guineas glory in 1979.
Distant Music began his year's work in January with repetitious six-furlong canters up Hills's private all-weather woodchip gallop at South Bank in Lambourn. Even then he was impressing. Oliver Brennan, his lad and daily rider, has fed and watered the likes of Highclere, Slightly Dangerous and Rejuvenate. The younger brother of Nottinghamshire trainer Owen, and an ex-employee of Dick Hern, he says this is the finest beast he has ridden since Brigadier Gerard.
The enthusiasm is not solely his preserve. Barry Hills may have been 63 just 11 days ago, but having a 9-4 Guineas favourite in house has its rejuvenation qualities. And while Brennan gets the regular pleasure of riding Distant Music, the honour of sitting on the machine at full tilt belongs to Michael Hills, the trainer's son. He can hardly wait. "You only have to be around this horse to sense what it is all about," the jockey said yesterday.
"It's exciting times for us. He hasn't grown much over the winter but he was a tall horse last year anyhow. He looks stronger and he feels stronger, and if you were to ask me 'has he trained on?' I would say almost definitely yes. He looks like a three-year-old and not a two-year-old.
"I have sat on him four times [this spring], and he has felt every bit as good as last year. Dad does not do these gallops to open them up, but he has done everything really well and he feels like a very good horse. He's a good worker in that he does what you tell him. He is not overlazy and he has never been beaten in a gallop.
"Dad wanted to go for the Greenham because that would have given him more time before the Guineas. He would have got three weeks rather than two. Now he will have to talk to Prince Khalid [Abdullah, the owner] about running in the Craven or going straight to the Guineas. I don't think that's a problem either way.''
Hills will, however, be represented in the Greenham. Indeed, he might have two entrants. "Seven No Trumps will run," the trainer said yesterday. "And while Sheikh Hamdan has other horses in the race, there wouldn't be any reason, if conditions were testing, for Asaal not to run.''
But it is Distant Music we are waiting for. His run in the Craven is governed purely by the ground and, with unsettled weather about, it is most likely that we will first see him in a Classic, down the Rowley Mile on 6 May.