Without doubt, the best horses galloping at Newmarket yesterday did so away from the madding crowd that thronged the racecourse during the afternoon. Europe's midsummer highlight, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, is now only six days away, and the finishing touches are being applied to the leading players. Sulamani, Kris Kin and Falbrav came through their final auditions with varying degrees of polish.
One of the subplots to Saturday's mile-and-a-half test at Ascot is that Godolphin, Sheikh Mohammed's Dubai-based élite operation, are seeking their 100th Group or Grade One winner worldwide but have been stuck, untypically, on 99 for two months. The first success for the boys and girls in blue came courtesy of Balanchine in the 1994 Oaks; those charged with bringing the century up only nine years later are Sulamani and Grandera.
To say that the team, who have previously won the Ascot showpiece with Lammtarra, Swain (twice) and Daylami, are relying on Grandera would be using the verb in its loosest sense. The chestnut is a high-class winner, but quirky. Frankie Dettori will partner Sulamani, as he did in the four-year-old's final test-drive. In a spin over seven furlongs on the hoof-friendly Watered Gallop next to the Rowley Mile with his lead horse, Celtic Silence, Sulamani did not show the sort of acceleration associated with the Ferrari Modena in which the Italian arrived for his morning's work, but eased smoothly enough through the gears.
Sulamani was a high-profile head-hunt for Godolphin during the close season after his fine second in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in the Niarchos colours, and looked worth every penny of the sheikh's ransom paid when he produced an electrifying burst to win the Sheema Classic in Dubai in March. But his European debut was disappointing: only fourth to Ange Gabriel at Saint-Cloud last month.
"That race, and the travelling to it, was a bit of a nightmare all round," said Godolphin's racing manager, Simon Crisford. "He has improved since, mentally and physically, and is ready for another run. But whatever, we can't protect the horse. He's with us to run in top races and, win or lose, that's what he'll do. If the ground was very firm on Saturday we'd think about it, but Ascot will be watering to take away the sting and some rain is forecast, so he should be there."
Newmarket Heath on a summer morning is undoubtedly one of the candidates in the heaven-on-earth stakes. Yesterday, at six o'clock, the place hardly needed its ubiquitous skylarks to make the heart soar; Sulamani strutted his stuff under a vast blue dome of a sky, a few high altocumulus clouds limned silver gun-metal by an early sun that already promised the baking heat of the later day.
But if Sulamani is a high-mettled racer, Kris Kin is not. The chestnut, who has not raced since landing a gamble in the Derby, produced his usual uninspiring display, with Kieren Fallon rubbing his ears off to keep him interested and upsides workmate Manoubi, who appeared to have the handbrake still on, with Gamut bustling him up from behind. However, his trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, won the King George last year, his third, with a similarly indolent type, Golan.
The Classic generation have so far come off worst with their elders but, perversely, Kris Kin is King George second favourite, behind his Epsom third, Alamshar, who subsequently took the Irish Derby.
Of the five-year-olds who dominated the first major all-aged clash of the season, the Eclipse Stakes, runner-up Nayef is a definite for Saturday but his conqueror, Falbrav, has yet to be confirmed. "We will not make the decision until we have to," said Falbrav's trainer, Luca Cumani, yesterday after the bay had cut his galloping companions down in a matter of strides under Darryll Holland.
Less than three lengths behind Falbrav in the Eclipse came Victory Moon, who will be the first South African runner in the £750,000 contest. The exploits this summer of Australian sprinter Choisir have shown that a southern- hemisphere passport is no longer a bar to success in these parts. With wins in the UAE 2,000 Guineas and Derby at Nad Al Sheba in March, Victory Moon has done his country proud, and Saturday's race has been his target all along.
"The international scene racing has become makes it more interesting for everyone," said trainer Mike de Kock, "and the Eclipse showed we are going to Ascot with a realistic chance. He's done well since and is becoming more relaxed. He's not the easiest of rides, he pulls a bit, but Wayne Smith knows him well."
Yesterday's most valuable contest, the Weatherbys Super Sprint for juveniles bought cheaply at auction, again proved a benefit for the Richard Hannon stable, which won the five-furlong dash for the fifth time when 14-1 shot If Paradise, ridden by Dane O'Neill, made virtually every yard of the running to scoop the £78,300 first prize, a fine return on his 13,500-guinea purchase price. Despite being drawn in the unfavoured stall one - appropriately, for this weekend, described as "out on the golf course" by his trainer - the colt beat Cop Hill Lad rather easily by a length and three-quarters.