Nothing is more historic about Newmarket's July course than the turf on which the participants gallop. For nearly three centuries hooves have pounded the flat heathland alongside the Iron Age defensive embankment of the Devil's Dyke on ground undisturbed for much of that time. The short, springy native grasses, the bents, fescues and cocksfoots, continue to provide the racing surface with its unique, cushiony thatch.
Threads of continuity bind the sport as closely and provide the strength that enables it to ultimately rise above and survive any storms and alarums, no matter how apparently damaging at the time. In the spring of 1944 a three-year-old filly named Felucca notched her sole success over seven furlongs of the Bunbury Mile; today her great-great-great-great grand-daughter of the same age will race towards the same finishing line.
Nannina - for it is she - was bred by and runs in the colours of the Cheveley Park Stud, the hugely successful stallion station and thoroughbred nursery situated on a hill overlooking Newmarket. There exists a historical document verifying that Aethelstan, the first king of England, bred horses on its land in medieval times; its present owners, David and Patricia Thompson, acquired the establishment 31 years ago.
During that time, mostly under the guidance of the managing director, Chris Richardson, they have built up a formidable 120-strong broodmare band and a portfolio of highly desirable stallions. The operation provides pleasure on the track and raw material for the future and Nannina, by resident sire Medicean, is one of the latest of an outstanding stream of celebrity fillies and mares to have carried the Thompsons' patriotic red, white and blue silks.
Any serious breeding operation replenishes its bloodlines, buying into the great studbook dynasties when the opportunity arises. The 1,000 Guineas heroine Russian Rhythm, from the family of Park Appeal, Desirable and Cape Cross, cost 440,000 guineas as a yearling; the recent Lancashire Oaks winner Alegretto, related to Alborada, Last Second and Yesterday, 415,000 guineas, and the as yet unraced two-year-old Jamboretta, with Banks Hill and Intercontinental on her page, 575,000 guineas.
Richardson struck in the bargain basement for Nannina's dam, Hill Hopper; she had a price tag of just 24,000 guineas in 1992. One of the famous Arches Hall breed developed by Dick Hollingsworth; Felucca is ancestress of Bireme, Buoy, Longboat, Indigenous and Water Boatman, top-level winners all over the world.
When Nannina takes her place in the Cheveley Park broodmare band, she will be its only representative of her family, for Hill Hopper was sent back to the sales three years ago and let go for 67,000 guineas. That is the way of the bloodstock business that underpins the shop window of the track; buy some, keep some, sell some.
"We can't keep them all, we have to make commercial decisions," Richardson said. "She was of an age when she was saleable. And anyway, we thought we had the important one, her filly foal, still at home."
So it proved. Nannina, trained by John Gosden, beat subsequent Oaks winner Alexandrova in last year's Fillies' Mile. It was a victory that prompted a nice payday for her dam's new owner, for Hill Hopper's foal made 300,000 guineas at the sales a few weeks later.
"If someone else does well with something we've sold, it all helps the wheels turn," said Richardson. "We sold Confidential Lady's half-sister, and Araafa's dam. A crystal ball would be useful, but we make judgement calls, and live with them."
Nannina bounced back to her juvenile form at Royal Ascot with a blistering display in the Coronation Stakes that established her at the top of the filly hierarchy for her generation. She takes on two of the best of the older brigade today, including her fellow colour bearer Peeress, also a Group One winner this term, in the Lockinge Stakes. But her participation is not yet certain; even Newmarket's hoof-friendly sward, judged on the good side of good to firm after a little rain and some watering, may be deemed too quick for the five-year-old. Her trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, will decide this morning.
Six-year-old Soviet Song, going for a hat-trick in the Group One mile contest, will start favourite and there would be no more popular winner. But Nannina (3.10) has youth and progression on her side and can strike a blow for the Classic vintage.
The day's feature is worth £200,000, which could be judged back-pocket change by those attending the late afternoon hearing in London that will decide Kieren Fallon's immediate fate. Three QCs - two for him, one for the HRA - will be in attendance at Fallon's appeal against his ban from the saddle in Britain in the aftermath of his arrest last week on conspiracy to defraud charges. The former champion will not be there, though
CATTERICK: 2.10 Me And Mine 2.45 Final Tune 3.20 Key Time 3.55 Desert Hunter 4.30 Pay Time 5.05 Soulard
WORCESTER: 6.10 Jacaranda 6.40 Different Class 7.10 Be Telling 7.40 Dream On Maggie 8.10 Lahib The Fifth 8.40 New Time 9.10 Bouncy Castle
NB: High Curragh
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