It's the Rosebery Stakes, Jim, but not as we know it. The 10-furlong handicap, first run in 1931 in memory of the eponymous 5th Earl in the days when the phrase sporting Prime Minister was not an oxymoron, will be contested for the first time today under its modern, all-weather, identity.
But its new look, and that of the even more venerable 1891-inaugurated Queen's Prize, would perhaps allow the course's founder in 1878, Stanley Hyde, to rest easy in his grave. For Lancashire-born Hyde was first and foremost an entrepreneur and any notion to try to keep the suburban Sunbury track in business would doubtless have met with his approval.
Kempton's Flat programme has been clinging on by its fingertips in the commercial arena for some time and in these early days of its sand rebranding the jury is still out on its merits as an attraction. Today's card is the most valuable yet on the new oval but more telling evidence may come on Friday, at the first floodlit evening meeting.
An as-yet unproven Group horse in a handicap is always an interesting proposition, though the fact that Imperial Dancer took the Rosebery Stakes at 33-1 four years ago, before adding two Group Threes that season and ending his career with a Group One success, suggested that his light was up to that point fairly well hidden.
But for Rohaani (3.15) there have been no bushels. The four-year-old's progress last year was well-charted; it culminated in his first defeat, though his best performance, in the last of four outings, when he went under narrowly at Newbury to three battle-hardened opponents, of whom second-placed Blue Monday won the Cambridgeshire next time.
Rohaani, a massive individual (his size has caused problems in the stalls in the past), has matured during the close season and his work in Newmarket this spring, on both all-weather and grass gallops, has been of an eye-catching order.
Favourites do not have a good record in the Rosebery - the last to score was Special Dawn 11 years ago - but today's likely market leader looks a typical lightly raced, considerately handled Michael Stoute improver who will go on to better things. Another bred for the surface, Red Racketeer, a half-brother to the UAE Derby winner China Visit, is second choice.
The classiest exposed performer on display this afternoon is Nayyir (3.45), one of the most frustrating nearly horses of recent seasons. His record of seven wins from 26 outings does no justice to his talent, which has brought him five Group One placings. His victory at Wolverhampton in February was his first for two and a half years, though he had been within a length of winning, including a neck behind Soviet Song in a Sussex Stakes, between times.
He seemed to have no problems with the step up to today's 10 furlongs in his last run, the Winter Derby at Lingfield, but the race proved a typical victory-into-defeat hard-luck story for him as he was hampered by a rival in the straight.
It may be significant that Dermot Weld sends Simple Exchange over from the Curragh for another try on sand - he was probably better than his sixth place off a slow pace and a wide draw in the race at Lingfield in November taken by another of today's rivals, last year's Rosebery Stakes winner Kew Green - but surely the drop in grade, smaller field and first-time assistance of Frankie Dettori will bring Nayyir compensation.
Mick Channon eschewed last month's Easter Stakes at Kempton as a prep for his Classic candidate Yasoodd because of its transfer to the all-weather and instead sends the colt to this afternoon's 2,000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown. His four local rivals, headed by maiden winner James Joyce, from Ballydoyle, all hold the Rowley Mile engagement.
Whatever happens, the contest should give Aidan O'Brien a handle on three-year-old form; another runner, the Kevin Prendergast-trained Rekaab, was twice placed at Group Two level behind better-performed Ballydoyle inmates Horatio Nelson and Septimus.
Channon, who reported his star filly Flashy Wings in rude health after a workout yesterday, fields one of his lesser lights, Asaawir, in the 1,000 Guineas Trial at the Co Dublin track. O'Brien has opted to keep Beauty Bright and Kamarinskaya, at home rather than send them to Newmarket next week, but the likely favourite is Prendergast's charge Ugo Fire, another yardstick to last year's form, given her placings behind George Washington, Wake Up Maggie and Rumplestiltskin before a Group Three victory.
The richest race of the Easter weekend is Monday's Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse, worth £97,586 to the winner from a field of 30 headed by high-class novice Our Ben. The warm-up in Co Meath tomorrow is the Powers Gold Cup, featuring a confrontation between In Compliance, Missed That and Nickname.
Nap: Call My Number (Kempton 2.45)
NB: Royal Alchemist
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