In recent seasons, runners trained by Sir Mark Prescott have not tended to appear until long after the first swifts. While other trainers allowed their unexposed horses to race up the ratings with reckless haste, Prescott would bide his time at bull rings in the South of France before finally beginning to bait the handicapper with feints and flourishes of his own. This spring, however, it became imperative to follow a different schedule, thanks to the presence in his yard of Confidential Lady.
Very much a creature of habit, Prescott reluctantly recognised that this filly deserved to be prepared for the 1,000 Guineas. In over 30 years, he had never previously saddled a runner in a British Classic, but as usual his instincts proved precise. Confidential Lady ran a storming race, thwarted only by "the monster from the Fens", Speciosa.
The expectation since has been that she would follow the winner to Epsom for the Vodafone Oaks, for which she is quoted as short as 9-1. Yesterday, however, Prescott persuaded David and Patricia Thompson, owners of Cheveley Park Stud, that she should instead remain at a mile for the Boylesports Irish 1,000 Guineas at the Curragh on Sunday.
Chris Richardson, the Cheveley Park manager, accepted that too much was in her favour there relative to the Oaks, where her stamina was uncertain over another half-mile. "The Thompsons would have liked a crack at Epsom, because they have been second in the Oaks a couple of times," he said. "Given the reservations about the trip, however, they left it to the trainer. And with the soft ground to her liking, it seems the logical decision.
"Granted it is a tough race, but Guineas form is normally pretty solid and if we wanted to try her over a longer distance, we would still have every chance of doing so later on - not least in the French Oaks at Chantilly, which is in another fortnight."
Richardson noted that success at the Curragh would provide twin cause for celebration. The Singspiel filly would be a first Classic winner for Prescott, who first applied his methods at élite level when making Pivotal a champion sprinter for Cheveley Park (he has since become the stud's outstanding stallion); and also a first home-bred Classic winner for the Thompsons. They bred a 2,000 Guineas winner in Entrepreneur, but were selling all their colt yearlings at the time, and though they won the 1,000 Guineas in their own colours with Russian Rhythm, Richardson bought her as a yearling in Keeneland.
Having started off so much earlier than normal, other runners from Heath House have been running fairly blearily, but events at Kempton yesterday suggest Prescott is now finding the middle of the bat. A runaway win for Spectait earned him the penalty he needed to have a chance of making the cut in the Totesport Victoria Cup when racing resumes at Ascot on Saturday.
By switching Confidential Lady from the Oaks, Prescott has meanwhile helped to justify the decision of Time On's connections to supplement her for Epsom. Having won a Folkestone maiden on her reappearance, Time On was sent to the Cheshire Oaks in search of some black type and promptly made all under Frankie Dettori. John Dunlop, her trainer, confirmed that she would again be ridden by the Italian at Epsom.
"She worked nicely yesterday and, assuming all remains well, she will be supplemented on Saturday," he said. "Funnily enough, she always worked well as a two-year-old. We knew she might need time - by Sadler's Wells, from a staying family - but she twice ran abominably on the racecourse. She finally showed something on soft ground and, whether the going was relevant or not, we couldn't say. But at the time we went to Folkestone, I must say we were very glad simply to have won a maiden with her."
Nap: First Show
Top tipster trophy for McGrath
Chris McGrath, The Independent's Racing Correspondent, was presented with the Racing Post Challenge Cup at Goodwood yesterday following his victory in the Post/Coral Bookmakers' newspaper naps contest for the 2005-2006 winter season. He beat 50 other national press tipsters to lift the prize.