It was not as if the colt, who cost three times that as a yearling, had shown nothing on his only juvenile outing for Michael Stoute, when third in a muddy Folkestone maiden. How Stoute must have suffered this spring as River North, now trained in Sussex by Lady Herries, has improved with each of his four runs, winning three and accumulating more than pounds 26,000 in prize-money.
Nor is there any indication that his learning curve is about to flatten out, which will make it easier to bear if the Jockey Club asks for pounds 3,465 to be handed back when it concludes its inquiry into the strange case of the contaminated spaniel. River North tested positive to the prohibited substance etamiphyline after winning at Brighton in April, and the only possible source is believed to be the pills which have kept Lady Herries' pet, Kandy, alive for the last three years. River North, it seems, must have been munching the grass around Kandy's favourite tree.
It is safe to assume that horse and hound will have been kept well apart in recent days, and little else bar a repetition of those bizarre circumstances seems to stand between River North (4.15) and his first Listed success in the Royal Yorkshire Handicap on the Knavesmire this afternoon. Kevin Darley, Savill's retained jockey, need only keep hold of the reins and steer a clear passage.
Uncompetitive though River North's race promises to be, it may be a welcome relief for punters after the William Hill Trophy Handicap, in which all of the 14 runners can be given some sort of chance. You might expect a horse which has finished in the frame on his last six starts, winning three, to start favourite, but ANOTHER JADE (nap 3.45) is from a small yard and ridden by an apprentice and thus on offer at generous odds this morning. Richard Hannon, Michael Stoute and Jimmy FitzGerald all saddle runners but may be forced to stand aside.
Azhar (3.15) is another three-year-old whose full talent has yet to be revealed, and while his rivals have age and experience on their side, only Loki looks capable of troubling him. Highland Magic (next best 5.15) also holds a strong chance.
The principal race in Europe tomorrow is the Prix de Diane (French Oaks), in which Francois Boutin, who has already won the first three French Classics, attempts to complete a full house with Accommodating. He will be without his principal jockey, however; Cash Asmussen who rides Aube Indienne for Criquette Head and owner Stavros Niarchos.
Dayflower, who became the first Dubai-trained horse to win a race in Britain at York last month, is also among the 14 runners, but there are no British-based challengers. If Boutin is to be denied, Sheikh Mohammed's Baya is the most likely candidate.