One horse ran so badly for a trainer here yesterday that he almost left before a second, supposedly inferior, took part. That won. "That's what happens at this time of the year," Henry Cecil said. "You never really know." Well, if he doesn't then heaven knows what chance the rest of us have.
It was indeed an afternoon which must have had many punters considering a new pastime, one less damaging both financially and emotionally. Cecil's Western Summer was an enormous flop, while Warren Place's Shibboleth, a leper in the market for a maiden, crashed clear by five lengths to earn an 8-1 quote for the 2,000 Guineas. Richard Hannon won the Craven Stakes with a colt he thought underprepared for the race and Western Summer's Feilden Stakes conqueror, David Elsworth's Pawn Broker, was allowed to go off at 14-1. It all made the business of backing horses look like a peculiar form of madness.
Henry Cecil has considered this Craven meeting the rebirth of his career, and maybe even his life, after the private turbulence of 1999. He is never far from emotion these days and, on the opening day, there were almost tears as he generously hugged Lady Howard de Walden in the aftermath of Wellbeing's victory. "I'll take my time and I'm sure I'll come good," he said in unusually assured manner. "I will come out on top." He probably was not just talking horses.
Shibboleth looks a good one for the crusade. "He's a bit of a baby and he's just coming to himself at the moment," Cecil told us as he has told us before about countless of his runners. "The other horse I ran has been working very well but he didn't put his head with his legs. After him running like that I thought 'should I wait for this race or should I go home?' ''
Well Henry stayed and he was able to see another member of his profession become baffled. Richard Hannon has almost had to get the sandbags out at East Everleigh this spring such has been the deluge. The horses had little chance for serious exercise and all the Hannon runners until this week have needed a run. But then came Cape Town's victory in Wednesday's Free Handicap and yesterday's victory with Umistim.
Umistim looked pleasant in the paddock, but there seemed others with more persuasive credentials. King's Best is meant to be one of Michael Stoute's flying machines and Rossini had come over from Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle stronghold.
After Stoute's other runner, Adilabad, started to splutter three furlongs out, Kieren Fallon and King's Best were left to plough their own furrow from some way out, too far for the liking of some. Fallon got rather cross later at suggestions that he had mistimed his effort.
King's Best too was to falter as Umistim launched a late challenge on the stands side. He will now join Cape Town back here on 6 May as Hannon attempts to add to his Guineas haul of Mon Fils, Don't Forget Me and Tirol. "You couldn't tell the difference between them at home," the trainer said. "This horse will improve a hell of a lot from this run, and you'd have a job to bottom him. The other one was probably a little more forward.''
A useful pairing also emerged for David Elsworth when Pawn Broker held off his Whitsbury stablemate Island Sound in the Feilden. The winner is now aimed at York's Dante Stakes. "He's in the Irish Derby, but he could be supplemented for the English," Elsworth said. "He's a bit upright, so perhaps running him at Epsom mightn't be such a good idea. He's potentially anything.''
Island Sound may contest Sandown's Classic Trial. But there are two reasons why he cannot run in the Derby and they were both chopped off while he was an impudent two-year-old. Elsworth claims it was all a dreadful accident. "It was a windy day," he said, "the door slammed and it got his nuts.''Reuse content