The first horses to tread the Ascot turf since the course shut up shop more than a year ago will do so on Tuesday, when a group of equine guinea-pigs will give the newly aligned straight a test-gallop. If all goes well, today will be the last time that Salisbury stages two of the Berkshire venue's Group contests, the Autumn and Cornwallis Stakes. It will also be the first, for the eagerly awaited transplanting of the pair to the sticks 12 months ago was scuppered by waterlogging in Wiltshire.
The Autumn Stakes, over a mile, has been won by a few horses subsequently revealed as high class along the way, most notably the half-brothers Nashwan and Nayef, plus the likes of Daliapour, Presenting and Dr Fong. Not for the first time, Aidan O'Brien seems to hold the key to the better juvenile form and sends over a brace from his entry of four.
John Magnier, head of the Ballydoyle/Coolmore operation, was at Newmarket sales yesterday, where he bought the last-ever colt by Danehill to be offered at public auction for 550,000 guineas in his trawl for future talent. "It's a matter of juggling what we've got," he said "and trying to find an opening for them all."
Dylan Thomas (1.40), an unbeaten Danehill half-brother to Queen's Logic stepping up in trip, is regarded as ahead of Arabian Prince in the stable's pecking order.
How high up he stands in the overall scheme of things will be revealed today, for the opposition includes a potentially smart performer in Atlantic Waves, a Sadler's Wells colt typically plucked cheaply from the Newmarket sales arena by the trainer Mark Johnston a year ago this week.
He cost 55,000 guineas, in sharp contrast to the $800,000 laid out by Sheikh Mohammed to secure Bold And Free, who was five lengths adrift when the pair made their debuts at Leicester last month and franked the form by winning on his next outing.
The Cornwallis Stakes is a five-furlong dash that has a good record in spotlighting sprinting talent; Majestic Missile, Dominica, Danehurst and Halmahera all won it and The Tatling finished second. An evenly matched selection of young speedsters line up today, but Pickett (2.15) can bounce back from defeat at Doncaster, where he seemed to burn himself out by going too fast too soon in a big field.
The weekend's most significant juvenile contest is likely to be the one-mile Beresford Stakes tomorrow at the Curragh. O'Brien makes a habit of winning the Group Two contest - he has done so for seven of the past nine years - and can strike again with the highly regarded Septimus, who landed something of a touch for the Co Tipperary boys when backed from 20-1 to 10-1 to beat the better-fancied Arabian Prince cosily in a Leopardstown maiden last month.
It has to be said, though, that O'Brien's past winners (Johann Cruyff, Saratoga Springs, Festival Hall, Lermontov, Turnberry Isle, Castle Gandolfo and Albert Hall) fared less well subsequently than the two who interrupted the sequence, Alamshar and Azamour.
On the jumping front, one perceived Gold Cup contender, Iris's Gift, has his third public go over fences at Bangor, the local track of his owner, Bob Lester. The flamboyant Jonjo O'Neill-trained grey, who won the Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham last year but drops to two miles today, got off the mark over the bigger obstacles at Market Rasen two weeks ago, but his jumping was distinctly casual, if not hair-raising, at times.
"The trip does concern me," Lester admitted. "He wants three miles-plus but there aren't many options for him at the minute. He has come on for his first run but we need to get more experience of fences into him."
Although Iris's Gift's talent is undeniable he may be worth taking on over two miles with Mount Karinga (2.55).
The last time 13-year-old Amberleigh House won was his victory in the 2004 Grand National and that record is unlikely to improve today at Chepstow, where he contests the three-mile handicap chase, but his road back to Aintree has to start somewhere.
At the Curragh tomorrow another of the winter game's characters, the high-class chaser Beef Or Salmon, starts his season in less conventional fashion with a run on the Flat in the Irish Cesarewitch.
Nap: Advanced (York 2.10)
NB: Godfrey Street
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