There were none of the customary thunderflies in the air, rather the noise from crows nesting in the paddock-side trees. The sky was the colour of a miner's bath. There was nothing July about this setting beyond name.
It was into this unwelcome environment that 11 fillies were sent out for the first meaningful Classic trial of the season, the Nell Gwyn Stakes. Having spent the last six months looking at great beasts of the National Hunt field it was rather odd to see these delicate ornaments brought before us. They were preposterously leggy, the sort of young things that do not get out of bed in the morning for less than pounds 10,000.
Among these pretty little things Circle Of Gold, Ellway Star and Valentine Waltz were conspicuously diminutive, the sort of things you might get out of a cracker. For two of them at least, appearances proved deceptive.
Hawriyah, Ski Lodge and Amazing Dream were line abreast for the first half of this contest, but it was Enemy Action, looking like Sooty with measles in the Cliveden Stud colours, who looked the dangerous stalker two furlongs out. Then, though, the green-and-white-striped livery of Frankie Dettori on Valentine Waltz squeezed along the rail and the contest was over. John Gosden's filly was three lengths clear at the line. Hawriyah was second, Circle Of Gold a fast-finishing third and Enemy Action, her stamina stretched, weakened to finish fourth.
The mighty cohorts of Godolphin and Aidan O'Brien's Irish operation have yet to toss forward their great hopes, but now the home guard has started to assemble. From a morning 50-1, Valentine Waltz is down to 16-1. "She's improved and she's worked well this year, a lot more enthusiastic than she was last season," Gosden said. "I think she'll get a mile and she deserves to go straight to the Guineas. She'll be a better filly on faster ground."
The doomsters have been preparing a shroud for Stanley House for some time now following Sheikh Mohammed's decision to concentrate resources on Godolphin and thus deny Gosden some of their prime bloodstock. The trainer's response has been quick and successful. "We've got about 25 horses that are going really well, doing easy work on the bridle," he said. "And when they come right like they have done it's great.
"At this time last year the horses looked very well but they all ran flat so we're taking advantage of this. Long may it continue."
It appears the filly may be ridden here on Classic day by Dettori, as Godolphin commitments that weekend at the Kentucky Derby are likely to be filled by American jockeys. The Italian expects a decent effort. "Any filly that wins a trial by three lengths has to be a live candidate," he said. "I think she'll run a big race."
We will see more of Frankie Dettori this season as he tries to erase the memory of a bad campaign numerically and individually in a single, ghastly night at the Breeders' Cup. "Last year I was trying to look after myself perhaps too much," he said. "I was trying to avoid getting suspended or injured, but, at the end of the day, that's really not my style. I felt I had a lot more to give at the end of the season." This year, in November, he expects to feel shattered.
1,000 GUINEAS (Newmarket, 2 May): Coral: 9-2 Moiava, 6-1 Etizaaz, 8-1 Sunspangled, 10-1 Mother Of Pearl, 12-1 Blue Cloud, 14-1 Calando & Wannabe Grand, 16-1 Valentine Waltz; Ladbrokes: 4-1 Moiava, 6-1 Etizaaz, 7-1 Sunspangled, 12-1 Calando & Mother Of Pearl; William Hill: 4-1 Moiava, 6-1 Etizaaz, 8-1 Sunspangled, 10-1 Mother Of Pearl.Reuse content