Rain does not cause quite the same disruption to horse racing as it does to lawn tennis, but the showers which turned Tim Henman's semi-final into a lottery might yet do something similar to the July meeting at Newmarket, which opens this afternoon. Michael Prosser, the clerk of the course at Newmarket, was confident yesterday that today's card would be run on "good, fast ground". Clerks have been wrong – very wrong – a hundred times before, however, and if a heavy shower or two finds its way to Suffolk, the prospects of several runners in the Princess of Wales's Stakes, could change dramatically.
Mark Johnston, who saddles Zindabad in the Group Two race, is on the punters' side, hoping that the only significant moisture at the July course today will be the beads of condensation rolling down hundreds of glasses of Pimms. At least three of his rivals, though, would welcome some ease in the ground. Holding Court, who ran away with the French Derby on soft going last year, will race in blinkers for the first time, while Lucido and front-running Mutamam have also shown their best form with some cut in the ground.
Mutamam will be running for the first time since his excellent fourth place behind Kalanisi in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf, and while he has had an extended break, he is probably lucky to be running at all after suffering a serious stomach infection. "It wasn't a blockage like normal colic," Alec Stewart, his trainer, said yesterday, "he had a viral infection and he looked very poorly for a long time. I'm really pleased with him now, he's working extremely well and he's as fit as I could possibly get him at home."
Mutamam certainly has the ability to win today's race, but while Stewart is more than capable of getting a horse ready first time up, his readiness to beat a field of race-fit rivals must be a worry. Sandmason, winner of the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot, has an obvious chance, but if the rain holds off, Zindabad (next best 3.40), who finished second in that race, can reverse the form on 3lb better terms.
David Loder has saddled 16 two-year-old winners from 21 runners so far this season, and at least one of the losers – Meshaheer in the Coventry Stakes – was desperately unlucky. It is hard to argue with a strike-rate of 76 per cent, and both Dubai Destination (2.05) and Silent Honor (3.05), his runner in the Cherry Hinton Stakes, should improve it still further. Only the latter will be worth backing, though, for the maiden which opens this meeting is usually one of the strongest of the year, and several of Dubai Destination's unraced rivals could prove to be Pattern-race performers in the making.
The mile handicap is a daunting challenge, although favourites have a fair record in recent years, and a place near the stands' rail is often an advantage. SILK ST JOHN (nap 2.35), drawn 19 of 20, was in action at Sandown at the weekend, but 75 is a very fair mark for a horse who has won off 92, particularly when he has looked to be running into form in recent weeks.Reuse content