All the talk had been of exotic migrants - a stablemate of the French colt who had become Epsom favourite only the previous day, the first raiders from Ballydoyle, and the flock forming over the desert. But the season's first classic skirmish on the Rowley Mile was won by a hardy, indigenous creature, "a monster from the Fens".
That was the affectionate description from Pam Sly, who yesterday drove Speciosa down the road from Peterborough to win the Shadwell Nell Gwyn Stakes. They had already exceeded their billing when winning a Group Two race here last autumn, but few were prepared for an equal show of impudence on their return. After all, Speciosa had a penalty to carry this time, and she was flanked on either side by fillies stabled with the champion trainers of France and Britain, André Fabre and Sir Michael Stoute.
And once the race was underway, it seemed as though Speciosa herself shared the suspicion that she was keeping the wrong company. She fled the gate like a rabbit, and managed to keep ahead of the headlights until two furlongs from home, when she abruptly veered all the way across the track to the stands' rail.
Remarkably, these antics were not sufficient to cost her the lead, and in eccentric solitude she reached the post with a length in hand of Spinning Queen. "I don't know why she does it," Sly said. "I know she does like to go across horses at home, because she likes to intimidate them." Sly dismissed herself as a mere farmer, better known for a handful of jumpers, and the bookmakers did much the same. Speciosa is still available with the sponsor at 25-1 for the Stan James 1,000 Guineas, back here over an eighth furlong a fortnight on Sunday. "She is just not fit and I really think she will improve," Sly said. "She was a very fraught filly last season but I think she has grown up."
Though it took her four starts to break her maiden last year, Speciosa is now fulfilling her pedigree: by Danehill Dancer out of a half-sister to the top-class French filly, Pride. Win, lose or draw, at 30,000 guineas she was expertly prised from the breeze-up sales at Doncaster last spring. "We had obscene offers for her during the winter," Sly said. "I own her with my son Michael and Tom Davies, who is a doctor in London, and I told them to take the money - but they said they wanted to live the dream."
Those accustomed to centre stage this time found themselves elbowed into the wings: the two Ballydoyle runners ran poorly, while Fabre had to make do with fourth with the Nell Gwyn favourite, Sweet Travel. He hopes to confirm Visindar's Epsom credentials at Saint-Cloud on 15 May.
The Godolphin team meanwhile maintained a studiously low profile as Frankie Dettori tested their own classic candidates in gallops at Nad al Sheba. Silca's Sister will tackle Speciosa after proving "much the best" in a group comprising Royal Proposal and Deveron, according to Simon Crisford. "She went nicely and finished well and seems to have trained on," the Godolphin manager said.
He also identified another recruit, Opera Cape, as the stable's likely representative in the Stan James 2,000 Guineas. "He finished ahead of Blue Ksar and Lateen Sails, and went nicely enough, showing good acceleration at an important part of the gallop," Crisford said. "But he needs to improve a fair bit on what he achieved last year."
Much the biggest news, however, concerned much the most charismatic of the stable's three-year-olds. It is quite obvious that Discreet Cat offers far too much in the long term to risk a "wreck" in the Kentucky Derby. It has seemed equally obvious that his owner would find it hard to resist running the most talented candidate he has found for the race, so long as the raw colt remained sound. Yet something about Discreet Cat's mental or physical condition has somehow persuaded Sheikh Mohammed that he should sit out not only the Kentucky Derby, but also the Preakness.
"We see him as an important horse for Godolphin both later this season and next year," Crisford said. "He won't actually be three until May, so we want to give him time to develop. Although we have no specific targets in mind for him at the moment, he will not be running in any of the Triple Crown races."
Nap: Golden Dixie
NB: Saif Sareea
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