The Cheltenham Festival is in the form book, the Flat turf season is only two days away. And though there was nothing remotely springlike in the chill wind that cut across Newmarket Heath yesterday morning, it is the season when a young trainer's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of Classics. Peter Chapple-Hyam, responsible for last year's Derby hero, Authorized, will send his candidate for this year's 2,000 Guineas, Winker Watson, to the Rowley Mile fray without a prep run. And he also revealed that he does not consider the unbeaten colt to be his best three-year-old.
That honour is reserved for the little-known filly Cape Amber. "I love Winker," he said, "but Cape Amber might be the best I've got. We're only ticking her over, sending her out third lot when it's a bit warmer. She'll go straight for her Guineas, too, and I'd love to think she's an Oaks filly."
Cape Amber, a scopey daughter of Cape Cross with a proper swagger to her walk, won her sole start last term, a seven-furlong July Course maiden, by three lengths. "I trained her mother, who was a bit of a funny character," added Chapple-Hyam, "but there isn't a bad bone in this one's body."
Cape Amber can be found among the 25-1 outsiders for the 1,000 Guineas. Winker Watson, as short as 10-1 for the colts' race, has not been seen since making it three from three in the July Stakes. "After that I wasn't happy with his action," explained Chapple-Hyam, "so we had his knees x-rayed, and found a shadow on one. It meant there might have been a problem, something might have happened, so we stopped with him.
"As soon as we did ease off him, he started to shoot up and he's a full hand bigger now. We've had him x-rayed twice since he started working again, and his knees are clean as whistles."
Winker Watson, who will be Alan Munro's ride, is untested beyond six furlongs and his pedigree says speed, not stamina, but Chapple-Hyam compares his Rowley Mile prospects favourably with those of his former charge Dutch Art, third in last year's Guineas and later reinvented as a sprinter.
"He has a relaxed attitude, not like Dutch Art, who was always on the bridle," he said of the Piccolo chestnut. "His breeding says he won't stay a mile, but his style of going says he might. And everyone told me Dr Devious [his 1992 Derby winner] wouldn't stay a mile and a half on paper."
Winker Watson is likely to have his final edge applied through racecourse gallops. "He would have to carry a penalty in the Craven," added Chapple-Hyam, "and I am not a fan of the Greenham as it often turns into a sprint. We'll go straight to the Guineas, and keep the dream alive until then."
Longer-term Classic hopes are pinned on the young colt who now occupies Authorized's box at St Gatien stables, an as yet un-named son of Galileo. "In a year's time," he said, "he's the one you'll be coming to see." More immediately, Chapple-Hyam was rather less sanguine about the prospects of Don't Panic, who may or may not be his first turf runner of the year in Saturday's William Hill Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster.
"He hasn't come in his coat yet and it's been a bit of a rush to get him ready," he said. "He's well enough, but I'm not sure he's good enough. And he may not get in anyway."
Even if the link between them was not quite seamless, the two parts of the scenario enacted on Warren Hill earlier were certainly part of the thread binding the sport's continuous narrative tapestry. As Very Wise, winner of the Lincoln 12 months ago, completed his preparation for a second assault on the first leg of the Spring Double, his trainer, William Haggas, watched from the back of his 21-year-old grey hack, Sailor Jim, who in his youth twice jumped round Aintree, scene of the second leg.
Haggas was realistic, rather than confident, about a repeat victory, this time back at the mile contest's traditional home. "He was rated 91 a year ago at Newcastle, and 94 when he won at Newmarket in the autumn," he said. "He's 100 now, and my opinion is he's go too much weight.
"When we won with High Low [in 1992] he was rated 75, and that wouldn't even get into the consolation race. What you need now is an improver, with the potential to win a Group Three."
Like, perhaps, Prince Forever, unraced since being beaten by subsequent Jersey Stakes winner Tariq on his only start as a three-year-old last year and subject of recent market support. "He's been on the go all winter and he seems quite forward," said his trainer, Michael Jarvis, yesterday. "He's lightly raced and has a touch of class."Reuse content