Swallow Flight can swoop on curtain-raiser

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The Independent Online

At around 1.15 this afternoon, a gaggle of pale and tiny young men and women will leave the weighing room at Doncaster racecourse. Goose-pimpled both from the cold and their nerves, and with their seven-stone frames bent almost double under the weight of their saddles, they will mount a motley assortment of handicappers and race around 12 furlongs of Town Moor. After the high dramas and disasters of Cheltenham, welcome back to Flat racing on turf.

At around 1.15 this afternoon, a gaggle of pale and tiny young men and women will leave the weighing room at Doncaster racecourse. Goose-pimpled both from the cold and their nerves, and with their seven-stone frames bent almost double under the weight of their saddles, they will mount a motley assortment of handicappers and race around 12 furlongs of Town Moor. After the high dramas and disasters of Cheltenham, welcome back to Flat racing on turf.

The urge to take some of the jockeys home for a damn good feed is just one of the experiences with which we will become reacquainted over the coming months. Blanket finishes, draw bias and sprint handicaps are others, so too the false reassurance that comes from not seeing your money leave the ground. Above all, there are names back in the mists of the last century, like Distant Music, Giant's Causeway and Teggiano, which suddenly seem very important indeed.

Doncaster, as it happens, was where Distant Music first hinted that he might be a colt of the very highest quality. He produced a burst of speed in the middle of the Champagne Stakes, which took him from mid-division to the shoulders of the leader in half a dozen strides. It was a hallmark of quality, duly confirmed with victory in the Dewhurst Stakes in October. He has had three runs, three wins, and he could still be anything.

Distant Music is undoubtedly the colt that everyone wants to see, though whether he will have a prep race before the 2,000 Guineas on 6 May has yet to be decided. Other potential Classic contenders could be out as soon as this weekend, however, since Aidan O'Brien, who had half-a-dozen leading two-year-olds last year, has entered Monashee Mountain, a 20-1 chance for the 2,000 Guineas, in a minor stakes race at the Curragh on Sunday.

That will set in train a giddy spiral of trials, ante-post betting, plunges and rumours, leading first to the Guineas meeting, and then the Derby and Oaks at Epsom. O'Brien's will be one of the key names, since four of the first six horses in most Guineas lists - Giant's Causeway, Bernstein and Mull Of Kintyre are the others - are housed in his Ballydoyle yard.

There will be other names to watch too, among them Mick Channon, who this year joins training's major league. Channon has almost 150 horses in his string for his first year in the West Ilsley yard once occupied by Dick Hern. In Seazun, the Cheveley Park Stakes winner, he has a serious contender for the 1,000 Guineas.

Trainers who are starting out this year include Alan Berry, who has taken over the licence at the Cockerham yard which his father Jack built. Jamie Osborne too will be desperate to get his training career off to a brisk start.

At the other end of the scale, meanwhile, there are new associations to ponder, and rivalries to anticipate. Kieren Fallon, who last year became the first Flat jockey since Sir Gordon Richards to ride 200 winners three seasons in a row, will expect to do so again in his new role as stable jockey to Sir Michael Stoute's 190-horse string. Fallon's former employer, Henry Cecil, also has a new No1, Richard Quinn.

Neither Fallon nor Quinn is in action today at Doncaster, where much of the attention will concentrate instead on Walter Swinburn, making his latest attempt to return to riding after problems with his weight. His rides include Desert Knight, a live contender for the Doncaster Mile, but SWALLOW FLIGHT (nap 3.40) may just get the better of him.

As ever, the first day's card is not one to get too heavily involved with. However, Jathaab (next best 2.35) has a realistic chance to defy top weight, while David Nicholls is always a man to keep on your side in sprints. He has two in the five-furlong handicap, with Further Outlook (3.10) narrowly preferred.

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