Racing: Guineas reveille for Cecil's Sleepytime

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The Henry Cecil family ensign flies over Warren Place after each Group One winner, but the old flag should have been at half mast this week after a particularly difficult period for the Newmarket stable.

Bacteria has come to visit the yard and is outstaying its welcome, and there were fears earlier in the week that illness may have spread to the upper echelons of a string which is powerful even by Cecil standards as he seeks to reclaim his trainers' championship from Godolphin.

However, after consulting the clip boards at the bottom of each of his patients' beds, Cecil was able to reveal yesterday that the stars have not been dimmed. Sleepytime, Reams Of Verse and Yashmak remain on course for a 1,000 Guineas which is almost a Warren Place private sweepstakes, while the older, established figures such as Bosra Sham and Lady Carla are also in the pink.

A lot of 10-to-follows had been placed in jeopardy at the beginning of the week when Cecil announced he was still trying to evict a bug from his yard. In common with other leading trainers, Henry never seems to get sickness among his athletes (with lesser handlers it's hard to tell whether they get the virus and have a bad run or have a bad run and then announce they have been suffering from the virus), but he recently admitted that a respiratory problem had attached itself to some of his horses.

Wednesday work morning at Headquarters was consequently denuded of some of its more aristocratic presences as Cecil gave his leading fillies the day off. As any trainer will tell you, working ill horses has the same effect on their engines as failing to put oil in your car. Instead of loosening their joints, the elite therefore underwent blood-testing and scoping, while swabs were taken and tracheal washes also administered.

"One or two of my horses have had a slight problem with infections recently, so any that I wasn't happy with, and all the more important horses, have been checked and scoped," Cecil said yesterday. "The results show that, on the whole, they are all right.

"There is a lot of coughing and ringworm in Newmarket and, while it is something we are used to, I think it's worse this year and it has come much later, possibly because of the warm winter. It's good to get it over with early so the horses build up an immunity.

"Sleepytime should be able to run next Friday [in the Fred Darling Stakes at Newbury], but Reams Of Verse won't run before the Guineas as she needs a mile and the ground is too fast, though she is 100 per cent."

Bosra Sham, too, still has a leg at each corner, though it may be as long as Royal Ascot in June before racegoers can see her using them in that blinding flurry they have come to expect. Lady Carla, the extravagant Oaks winner, is said to be "fine", which is a digit in the eye for those who have been fertilising rumours of her ill-health throughout the winter months.

According to one corpulent, hairy, television source, Lady Carla should by now have a slightly swollen tummy following a liaison with Mr Prospector, but if that is to be the case the American stallion must have broken in to Warren Place.

Cecil is still toying with the idea of sliding one of his battalion into the first major British Classic trial, next Tuesday's Nell Gwyn Stakes at Newmarket, and is definitely without a runner in this afternoon's French rehearsal, the Prix Imprudence at Maisons-Laffitte.

Unless there is a horrible departure front the script, this Listed contest should go to Criquette Head's Pas De Reponse, last season's Cheveley Park Stakes winner, who, according to the bookmakers, is one of the few fillies breathing who can stop the Classic trophy being added to Henry Cecil's groaning mantlepiece.

1,000 GUINEAS (Newmarket, 4 May): William Hill: 5-2 Sleepytime, 5-1 Moonlight Paradise, 7-1 Reams Of Verse, 8-1 Pas De Reponse, 10-1 Khassah, Yashmak, 12-1 Bianca Nera.