With two Classics in the bag over the weekend, Aidan O'Brien turned his attention to one of his potential stars among the largest-ever selection of older horses at Ballydoyle. This time last year, Yeats had won the Ballysax Stakes, was shortly to win the Leopardstown Trial, and was favourite for the Derby, only to be ruled out by injury three days before the big one at Epsom.
Running for the first time for 358 days in a 10-furlong Group Three at the Curragh yesterday, he lost his unbeaten record to the fitter and rather talented Cairdeas, but still has another date on the Surrey downs in his diary. Kieren Fallon kept Yeats, the 4-6 favourite, off the pace set by stablemate Wolfe Tone until the straight, but although he moved through to make a challenge smoothly enough, Cairdeas, who led fully a quarter-mile from home as Pat Smullen grabbed the initiative, left him toiling six lengths adrift at the line.
The ground in Co Kildare was soft, and O'Brien was happy enough with the exciting Sadler's Wells colt he regards highly. "It was tough to give him his first race of the season in that ground," he said. "He just got tired. He's in the Coronation Cup, and also the Tattersalls Gold Cup, and one of those will be his next run."
Dermot Weld, who trains Cairdeas for the President of Ireland, was delighted to have taken the scalp of the Ballydoyle colt. "I think you'll find this was a good race," he said. "Pat gave him a lovely ride, with great confidence. The horse has all the right entries and will have a lot of opportunities as the season progresses."
With Footstepsinthesand and Virginia Waters, O'Brien and Fallon became the first trainer-jockey team to win both Guineas since Noel Murless and George Moore did it with Royal Palace and Fleet in 1967. And throw the owner, Michael Tabor, into the mix and it was a first since 1942, when Fred Darling and Gordon Richards won with Big Game and Sun Chariot for King George VI.
In each of those cases, one of the Epsom Classics was annexed. Royal Palace won the Derby but Fleet failed to stay when fourth in the Oaks, a reverse of the scenario when Sun Chariot won the Oaks but Big Game failed in the Derby.
O'Brien now finds himself with the favourites for both races, though the filly would have to be supplemented to run. It seems inconceivable that she will not be, particularly as the stable's hitherto No1 Oaks hope, Kitty O'Shea, is behind schedule; her style of running and her undoubted class stamp her as a serious contender and her pedigree gives every hope that she will be blessed with the requisite stamina. Though her sire, Kingmambo, is best noted for his excellent milers - like King's Best, Russian Rhythm, Divine Proportions - he did get an Arc runner-up in El Condor Pasa and Virginia Waters's dam should supply staying power, as a daughter of Sadler's Wells from the immediate family of High Hawk and In The Wings.
Footstepsinthesand has more speed and electricity about him, both as an individual and on paper, and the Ballydoyle pecking order with a view to the first Saturday in June will become clearer during the next few weeks of trials, starting with Gypsy King in the Dee Stakes at Chester on Friday. And before that, bookmakers are running scared of Coconut Beach, who will be the Irish maestro's first runner at the Roodeye in tomorrow's Chester Cup, cut to as low as 5-1 for the marathon.
But if all is back in kilter in Co Tipperary, the Classic road has proved stony in the Godolphin camp.
Guineas flop Dubawi, ill at ease on the fast ground on the Rowley Mile, has been ruled out of the Derby but is likely to be given the opportunity to get his season back on track in the Irish version at the Curragh. And yesterday at Doncaster Centaurus, one of 20 Godolphin entries at Epsom, did his cause no good when a babyish fifth of six behind 40-1 shot Real Quality in the mile conditions race won by Dubawi's sire, Dubai Millennium, six years ago.
The most impressive performance yesterday came at the Curragh from Indesatchel, who followed his Greenham Stakes victory by bolting away with the Tetrarch Stakes by six lengths en route to a possible cut at the French 2,000 Guineas and a certain one at the Jersey Stakes at York.
The most poignant card was at Kempton, where a 127-year-old page of racing history turned with the Sunbury track's final Flat meeting on turf before its conversion to an all-weather floodlit venue. The winner of the final Flat race on grass, the once-celebrated Jubilee Handicap, was San Antonio and the last horse to cross the line on the course first opened in 1878 was Northern Desert.