This is the time of year when the perceived stars from the major stables loom over the hill like so many impi of Zulu warriors. Dubai Two Thousand, from the Godolphin team, and Apollo Victoria, representing Ballydoyle, turned up here to test each other's firepower in the Derby Trial. And, not for the first time this season, the big guns were met by too stern resistance, with Saddler's Quest playing the part of the defenders of Rorke's Drift on this occasion.
After the colt's eye-catching winning seasonal debut at Kempton it was apparent the further he went the more effective he would be. And he needed just about every inch of yesterday's one mile three furlongs and 106 yards to catch and beat Going Global a neck and will, presumably, relish the extra 114 yards he will face at Epsom.
This course, with its Tattenham-like hill and corner into the straight, provides the nearest thing to a dress rehearsal for the big day and has the best recent record of any of the trials, Derby winner High-Rise's victory two years ago being sandwiched by those of two subsequent Epsom runners-up, Daliapour and Silver Patriarch.
Saddler's Quest proved that the idiosyncratic contours of Surrey's more famous track will hold no fears. "He came down the hill like a cat," said his trainer Gerard Butler, "and that was one of the things we wanted to find out."
Butler, in only his third season with a licence, was due some luck, his Compton Bolter (100-1) and Princess Ellen (66-1) having finished fifth and second in the 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas respectively at Newmarket the previous week. Ladbrokes offer a top-priced 33-1 about Saddler's Quest for the Derby.
Kevin Darley, who, at 39, retains all his strength and determination in a finish, will be in the saddle again at Epsom and anticipates considerable further improvement from Saddler's Quest, who was racing for only the third time in his life and had to face sudden driving rain from a summer cloudburst. "He is still a bit green," he said, "when he came into the straight he was concentrating on racing the wrong horse, the one on his outside. When he hit the front his head was inclined to go up. But when I went bang, bang, with my whip, just a couple of smacks to let him know the job was not done yet, he responded well and tackled the horse on the rails with a will. He has learned a bit today and will only get better."
Butler concurred. "He is only a young boy," he said, "we'll take him home now and treat him like a king."
The Irishman was installed at a custom-built yard on the downland near Blewbury in Oxfordshire, by the Swedish millionaire Erik Penser, owner of Compton Admiral, winner of the Eclipse Stakes for the stable last year.
But if Butler's rise and rise sounds like something Andersen might have concocted, try telling that to the group of seven who own Saddler's Quest and stood, drenched but delirious, in the winner's circle. Their colt, who shares his sire Saddler's Hall with short-head Derby loser Silver Patriarch, was bred by two of them, Edward and Chris Goodwin, at their small Deepwood Farm Stud in Berkshire, the grandson of a mare bought for 12,000 guineas at the sales 22 years ago.
Sheikh Mohammed, whose bloodstock interests are rather more extensive, could only watch as Dubai Two Thousand trailed in sixth, all hopes extinguished that he would live up to his name in the same way as Dubai Millennium.
There had been further embarrassment earlier for the boys in blue when Auratum all but unseated Frankie Dettori as she reared and twisted leaving the stalls in the Chartwell Fillies Stakes. The Italian did well to stay on her back but lost both irons and, with self-preservation to the fore, rode down the straight sitting up like Fred Archer as the filly charged after her mates. Amazingly, she was still in touch a furlong out when the sting went out of her gallop and Dettori was able to pull her up. With only pride hurt, the Godolphin team were able, just about, to see the funny side.
But better luck will be required in France today to get the season back on tracks. River's Curtain, supplemented to the Derby last month, contests the Prix Lupin at Longchamp, opposed by six including heavyweight Epsom prospects Kutub, trained by Freddy head for Hamdan Al Maktoum and Ciro, the Aidan O'Brien candidate.
The Lupin is the first of three Group Ones at the Paris track, followed by the Poule d'Essai des Poulains and Pouliches, the French Guineas. Ekraar (Marcus Tregoning), Bachir (Godolphin), Monashee Mountain (O'Brien) and Valentino (John Gosden) are the raiders in the colt's contest and Alshakr (Ben Hanbury) and Iftiraas (John Dunlop) take on local favourite Lady Of Chad in the fillies' race.