Racing: Return to Rowley Mile quickens pulse of season

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The Independent Online

If heaven has a place on earth, it may be Newmarket Heath early on a bright spring morning at the start of this particular week. Although Flat racing is these days a year-round fixture, now is the time when the pulse of the season begins to quicken and this afternoon on the Rowley Mile, for the first time in more than five months, racing action returns to the Suffolk town that is the sport's self-styled headquarters.

If heaven has a place on earth, it may be Newmarket Heath early on a bright spring morning at the start of this particular week. Although Flat racing is these days a year-round fixture, now is the time when the pulse of the season begins to quicken and this afternoon on the Rowley Mile, for the first time in more than five months, racing action returns to the Suffolk town that is the sport's self-styled headquarters.

It is a convention that has been taking place for some time; the Craven Stakes, the Classic trial that gives this week's three-day meeting its name, was first run in 1878. Yesterday, another time-honoured ritual was taking place on the gallops: that of riding out with hope in the heart, for at this time of year, very few bubbles have yet been burst.

On the training gallops, Monday is a routine, quietish day for most; after a Sunday off, one brisk canter suffices. Clive Brittain, the optimist's optimist, took advantage of the fine weather and low-key atmosphere to enjoy a gallop up Warren Hill after his string under a high blue East Anglian sky. "If you can't believe your geese are swans right now," he said, "you never will."

The first Classic of the year, the 2,000 Guineas, is just 18 days away and it is easy for a contender to fall from favour; witness the way Grand Central, Ballydoyle's great white hope, apparently hit the buffers at Leopardstown on Sunday.

But there were none of the anseriforme order flying yesterday in Dubai. Alongside the traditional rhythm of progress in this country throbs a new drumbeat and the Guineas favourite Dubawi has been wintering in the Emirates sun, as the custom of his Godolphin stable dictates. And the unbeaten son of Dubai Millennium has come through his sternest test to date with credit.

Frankie Dettori rode the colt to a four-length success in a simulated race against stablemates in a private trial organised by the blues over a mile on the grass track at Nad El Sheba racecourse, his first serious action since winning the National Stakes in September. Dubawi quickened on demand to beat Tasdeed and Satchem, separated by a head, and bookmaker reaction was to harden him at the head of the Guineas market. The best price available is the 5-2 with Ladbrokes, who have him at 5-1 for the Derby.

The imposing bay had a good blow after the work, which was watched by a delighted Sheikh Mohammed. "We are very, very pleased," said Godolphin's racing manager, Simon Crisford. "He will come on for that and it should put him spot-on for the Guineas."

The first of the home side to lay a growing reputation on the line will be Rob Roy, the 10-1 second favourite for the Guineas, in the Craven Stakes on Thursday. The Sir Michael Stoute-trained colt won his sole maiden outing last year and earned his ticket to this step up in class with a no-nonsense piece of work last week. One opponent in the mile contest won by last year's Guineas hero Haafhd will be another Newmarket resident, Peter Chapple-Hyam's charge Montgomery's Arch, who has also been impressing in his faster paces. Two other high-profile entries, Etlaala and Iceman, have Saturday's Greenham Stakes at Newbury as an alternative.

The Craven meeting has undergone a shuffle in running order this year; those looking for the traditional opening day feature, the Nell Gwyn Stakes for 1,000 Guineas aspirants, will have to wait until tomorrow, when the filly contest shares the bill with the Free Handicap.

But there will be social climbers on view today, like Guineas longshot Museeb, who won his maiden by five lengths at Doncaster 11 days ago and takes another step up the ladder in the seven-furlong conditions stakes.

The Museum Maiden Stakes that opens the Newmarket season has a reputation better than the facts, though. True, it is the race in which subsequent Derby winner Commander In Chief first displayed his talent, but that was 12 years ago. No horse of that calibre has won since and the latest graduate to perform was Shamawan, who finished fifth in 1998 and last in Saturday's Grand National.

A clutch of Classic entries were involved in a bunch finish to a 10-furlong maiden on the dirt at Lingfield yesterday. Tragedian, a Theatrical half-brother to top sprinter Green Desert, prevailed, with Oaks possible One To Win third and Derby hope Mont Saint Michel, who will improve, fourth.

Richard Edmondson

Nap: My Paris (Newmarket 3.25)

NB: Intoxicating

(Newmarket 5.10)

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