If a man sporting dark glasses and an upturned collar was seen leaving by a side-exit as Merit was led back after his six-length victory, it was probably the handicapper, who will not look back on the 1996 Chester Cup as one of his finer pieces of work. While he was aware that Merit had started to improve rapidly at the end of last season, however, he could not have known that during the winter the process had not just continued, but also accelerated. When he takes his revenge in the ratings, it may be brutal.
Jimmy Quinn, the fortunate jockey who pulled on Salman's dark green silks yesterday, has set himself a target of 1,000 rides this season, and if he rode 10,000 it is doubtful if he would find an easier winner. Merit was settled just off the pace throughout, was clearly going best with a circuit left, and strode clear two furlongs out.
"He travelled really sweetly and I haven't had an easier ride round here apart from Welshman," he said, recalling his victory in the same race four years ago. "He's a lovely horse, and he'd be a nice one to keep the ride on."
The last comment was offered with a smile, but also a hint of resignation. It is not that Quinn is in danger of falling out with Paul Cole, Merit's trainer, but his is the perennial problem of the lightweight. Merit will be asked to shoulder a more realistic burden in his next race - possibly the Ascot Stakes at the Royal meeting - and rather than fill the saddle with a stone and a half of lead, his connections may prefer to engage a heavier jockey.
Daraydan, top weight with two stone more to carry than the winner, ran on well into second, with Corradini, Cecil's runner, a length away in third, a position which was commendable given that every one of the other 17 runners was ahead of him with a circuit to run. Pat Eddery, his jockey, came from an impossible position to win the second race on Vasari, but it was greedy to expect such remarkable good luck to continue.
There were no such problems for Mick Kinane, who put in an exemplary performance on Tout A Coup to win the Cheshire Oaks. The winner is trained in Ireland by Gerry Cusack, a former employee of Michael Stoute, and with a Listed-race victory to show for his first runner in Britain, his future appears bright.
The success was rather less auspicious for the Oaks, however, as for the second day running a Classic trial was won by a runner without an entry for Epsom. In Tout A Coup's case, all is not lost with the supplementary stage for the Oaks still to come, a luxury denied to the connections of Tuesday's Chester Vase winner, High Baroque, who does not have a Derby entry.
Cusack, though, insisted yesterday that his filly will not be added to the list. Edmund Loder, her owner, may attempt to persuade him otherwise, but the Irish Oaks, at the Curragh on 14 July is the trainer's preferred option and only a pitifully foolish punter will take the 20-1 offered by William Hill for the original version on 7 June.