Though old wives may disagree, a horse's most obvious physical characteristic - the colour of its coat - has no effect on its ability. Bays, browns, chestnuts, blacks and greys all race as well as each other if the factors in their genetic inheritance that denote athletic ability are in place. Mostly bays win the Derby simply because there are mostly bays in the thoroughbred population; their proportional representation in that hallowed winner's circle is, shade for shade among runners, exactly as it should be.
There are many old saws about colour. It was always said that Nijinsky's bays were better than his chestnuts, and then Shahrastani and Ferdinand claimed Derbys at Epsom and Churchill Downs in the same year. Sadler's Wells cannot sire a chestnut but that is nothing to do with his prepotency, simply that he does not own a chestnut gene to pass on.
Being grey is associated with speed; some exceptionally fast bearers of the smoky jacket - like Abernant and Grey Sovereign - proved top-notch sires too. Over jumps, however, greyness is associated with stamina, thanks to Roselier, the outstanding long-distance progenitor of modern times.
But greys seem to have a magic in their pale coats denied to their basely coloured brothers and sisters. White horses belong to good guys; hi-ho Silver and all that. At Newmarket today, in homage, the fourth running of a unique event takes place, the Grey Horse Handicap.
Though none of the 15 runners can be mentioned in the same breath as their common ancestor The Tetrarch, the 1913 juvenile champion who was one of the great greys of Turf history, they will make a fine sight as they spring from the stalls. Middleton Grey has won for the past two years but may have to give best to Paris Bell (2.55), who put up a decent performance last year when fourth and has competed in better company lately.
If the whimsy is at Newmarket, the substance is at Newbury and for greys, read the blues. After a stuttering start to the year the Godolphin team is now in win mode with a vengeance; of 17 runners in the past two weeks, 12 have won, four have come second and one fourth.
The revival should continue today. Caradak (3.45) made the transfer from John Oxx to Saeed Bin Suroor with a progressive profile and though his successful debut for his new connections was more satisfactory than spectacular he can be expected to have improved markedly. All his six wins have been on fast going but he coped with softer when touched off last October by Court Masterpiece in the Prix de La Forêt over today's seven-furlong trip.
The Group Two Hungerford Stakes has been won by a three-year-old only once in the past decade, a statistic that also applies to the Geoffrey Freer Stakes, for all its supposed status as a St Leger trial. Mr Combustible was the one in 2001, and went on to finish third to Milan at Doncaster. In fact, the only horse to take both contests in the same year was Ridge Wood, winner of the inaugural Newbury race in 1949.
Only two fillies have won, Attica Meli in 1973 and Phantom Gold 10 years ago. Guadalajara (3.10), another of Godolphin's close-season head-hunts, can make it three. The daughter of Acatenango, who will enjoy ease in the ground, was outclassed in the Ascot Gold Cup but bounced back at Newmarket last month. She had smart staying form when trained in France.
Geoffrey Freer, who single-handedly dragged Newbury from the devastation wreaked by its use as an American supply depot during the war, was Jockey Club handicapper from 1944 and would no doubt have had a view on the feature at Ripon, even though a prayer to the local cathedral's founder, St Wilfrid, for the solution to his eponymous sprint may be as useful. Without expert or holy guidance Fonthill Road (3.30) is suggested.
Interest in tomorrow's Prix Morny, the weekend's Group One feature, depends on whether Aidan O'Brien lets Holy Roman Emperor turn out on soft ground a week after his Phoenix Stakes win. Three travel from Britain, Dutch Art and Striving Storm from Peter Chapple-Hyam's yard and Excellent Art from Neville Callaghan's stable.
Nap: Royal China (Bangor 4.25)
NB: Alzerra (Newbury 2.40)Reuse content