Racing: Guineas heroine Speciosa in grand shape for first date with an Earl

A year on, and life out on the Fens is back to being as tranquil as the landscape. The local tigress is purring like a kittycat and her trainer has stopped boxwalking. In 26 days' time Speciosa, heroine of last year's 1,000 Guineas, will make her return in the Earl of Sefton Stakes at Newmarket. Twelve months ago she was building up to the same meeting, but then there was something to prove. "Last time, going for the Nell Gwyn, it was all a worry," said Pam Sly, "but once that and then the Guineas were over, the pressure was off. Anything else was, and will be, a bonus. Now we're freewheeling."

Yesterday morning Speciosa, with perhaps her greatest fan, her jockey Mickey Fenton, on board, stepped up her workrate with a couple of swinging half-speeds. "She's done very well over the winter," said Sly, who part-owns her charge, along with her son Michael and family friend Tom Davies. "She must be 16.1 hands, now. She's got good strong loins, a tremendous back end. She's not so much on the leg as she was last year, she's deepened. And she's much more amenable. She's really a very pleasant person to have around."

After the Earl of Sefton, a nine-furlong Group Three contest, Speciosa will pick up the Group One mile trail in the Lockinge Stakes. "She doesn't have to carry a penalty at Newmarket, because she won the Guineas before the cut-off date," said Sly, "the timing gives her a break before Newbury."

The filly's three-year-old campaign appeared to tail off after her gallant fourth in the Oaks out of her distance, but Sly puts forward mitigating circumstances. "The firm ground was against her in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot and dropping her back to seven for the Park Stakes was a mistake," she said. "She went lame just before the Sun Chariot and Spinning Queen, who she'd beaten twice, went and won it."

Speciosa, bought for just 30,000 guineas and star of a 24-strong string trained on flat farmland with a backdrop of Lincolnshire droves and drains, was one of last year's heartwarmers. And Sly, in the manner of stockmen who wish to disguise the affection in which they, too, hold their animals, tends to use the impersonal pronoun when referring to the white-faced bay.

"It's a gamble keeping it in training for another year," said Sly, "and of course there are all sorts of risks. But we did buy it to have fun with, and that means racing. Its pedigree says it'll train on and it's looking as if it has. Yes, we've turned down a lot of money but it's insured; if something happens and it's dead, then it's dead."

In showcasing Sly's talents Speciosa has brought another bounty in a new owner, Erik Amlie, who has placed several well-bred fillies with the Singlecote Farm team. "It's very nice," said Sly, typically realistic as she voiced the sentiments of all in her trade, "to have nice horses. They cost no more to keep than bad ones."

Chris McGrath

Nap: Priors Dale

(Newbury 5.00)

NB: Desert Light

(Wolverhampton 2.55)

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