Racing: Everything's Lovely in the July course garden: Newmarket meets again in summer, not in rain

Click to follow
ONE OF the earliest references to Newmarket can be found in the opening act of Macbeth. Leaving the Rowley Mile on a typically gusty evening, Macbeth meets three old tipsters (rather good ones, as it turns out), barring his way across what he describes, with feeling, as 'this blasted Heath'. Sceptics seeking further evidence that the encounter took place in Suffolk rather than Scotland need only consider his subsequent descent into murderous despair. That, after all, is how the Rowley Mile makes most punters feel.

It was a shame for Macbeth - not to mention Banquo and the rest - that he did not visit the July course instead. Barely a mile away from the bleak, miserable Newmarket heath which stages the meetings of spring and autumn, the July course could be in a different country. Racegoers attending its feature meeting this week will find cool elegance, thatch and shade in place of the Rowley Mile's red bricks and wind chill. It almost makes losing a pleasure.

A good thing too, since with events like today's 20- runner H & K Commissions Handicap to tempt and frustrate them, losing is what many punters will be doing fairly rapidly. Nor does the feature event, the Group Three Cherry Hinton Stakes, offer much relief, with fourunbeaten fillies, all open to dramatic improvement, taking on the highly rated Millstream. The backers' choice will probably be David Loder's Lovely Millie, the 20- 1 favourite for next year's 1,000 Guineas after three easy victories, but only the brave or stupid will take a short price about her with so many unknown quantities in the field.

Loder himself is only cautiously optimistic, a further hint that punters should take care. 'You never go into a race like this thinking that you're going to win,' he said yesterday. 'It's the first time she's been in with proven Group performers and we'll find out how good she is. She's a nice big filly who's done everything right so far, she's won a maiden, a conditions race and a Listed. A Group Three is the next step.'

Some trainers would baulk at giving a potentially top- class three-year-old such an energetic first season - Lovely Millie's last race was just 11 days ago - but Loder is not one to keep a good horse at home.

'She had a very easy race first time out, and a relatively easy one after that, so we didn't feel she'd learned enough for a race like the Cherry Hinton. We knew that by running at Newmarket last week we'd pick up small penalty, but I felt that the experience of having a race in better company would stand her in good stead, and on the evidence of her work since she ran, I'd say it definitely has.' A 20-1 chance for the Guineas, though? 'She might be 100-1 by the end of tomorrow.'

A filly who has already claimed a place on the Classic roll, this year's 1,000 Guineas winner Las Meninas, will not be appearing at the July meeting, though. An 8-1 chance for Thursday's July Cup yesterday morning, Tommy Stack's filly was found to be in season and will miss the race. 'They normally take three or four days to come out of it and there's no point in sending her for a race of that quality,' Stack said. 'I haven't thought about her next target yet, I'll just wait until later in the year.'

The scratching of Las Meninas did not affect ante- post betting on the race, for which Lochsong is 7-4 favourite with William Hill, followed by 5-2 Owington, 4-1 Catrail, 6-1 Barathea, 16-1 bar.

The strength of the field was emphasised yesterday by Ian Balding, Lochsong's trainer, who sees the quality of opposition, rather than a six-furlong trip which might stretch her stamina, as the main problem for his mare.

'This season she has been running against handicappers,' Balding said, 'whereas the likes of Barathea, Owington and Catrail are all genuine Group One performers. It's more important than the trip, she's a stronger horse than last year and I think she's got a better chance of getting the extra furlong.'

It is still a contest, though, about which none of Newmarket's many touts can be certain. Even the ones with black cats and cauldrons.