Racing: Channon benefits from Gift

Obligations were fulfilled here at Headquarters yesterday when Classic aspirants bobbed up in the traditional trials of the Nell Gwyn Stakes and European Free Handicap.

Obligations were fulfilled here at Headquarters yesterday when Classic aspirants bobbed up in the traditional trials of the Nell Gwyn Stakes and European Free Handicap.

However, neither Silca's Gift nor Brunel, the respective winners, will be featuring at the Guineas meeting near the Devil's Dyke in just over two weeks' time. Their next performances will be close to the more substantial watercourse of the Rhine when they participate in the first German Classics at Düsseldorf and Cologne.

The Nell Gwyn did not offer a vintage renewal. Silca's Gift led home Incheni and Roseanna at respective prices of 25-1, 50-1, 14-1. The result was at least proof, though, that Mick Channon's sleeping army is now waking from its torpor. It was appropriate that Silca's Gift should perform the task for Britain's biggest trainer, in terms of numbers, as she too has been through a period of inertia after collecting the Albany Stakes at the Royal meeting last June.

"We lost her last year after Ascot, which sometimes happens after the ground was as firm as it was at there," Channon said. "But she's been working well this spring." Silca's Gift has been exercising, in by no means domineering fashion, on the West Ilsley gallops with Majestic Desert, the runner-up to Carry On Katie in the Cheveley Park Stakes last October. Majestic Desert is now worthy of even more scrutiny in Saturday's Fred Darling Stakes at Newbury.

Yet it may be that the most persuasive 1,000 Guineas clue came just after a security alarm cleared the Rowley Mile stands before racing. Red Bloom, the ante-post favourite, conducted a fly-past in the hands of Kieren Fallon, readily outpointing her stablemate Strider.

The Free Handicap perhaps gave most succour to backers of Milk It Mick, a runner in Saturday's Greenham Stakes at Newbury, who beat yesterday's winner, Brunel, by around two lengths in the Somerville Tattersall Stakes here in October.

Brunel's mid-term target is the St James's Palace Stakes at the Royal meeting. "He's in the German and Italian Guineas, and he'll probably go to Germany because that gives us more time and I want to space his races out a bit," Willie Haggas, the winning trainer, said. "It's great to get the show back on the road with him because he's always been talented."

The disappointment of the race was Russian Valour, and the manner of his defeat possesses dark overtones for the prospects of stablemate Attraction in the 1,000 Guineas. "He was never ever going," Mark Johnston, the trainer, observed. "We've been teaching him to stop all the time and it's probably been a big mistake. He popped out of the stalls today and never got in the race, which is completely out of character.

"We were wondering about how we were going to settle him but now it's about getting him to go. It's time to fire him up again. I worry about him and, dare I say, Attraction, as we've been concentrating all winter on slowing them down."

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