The margins by which Ryan Moore and Workforce threaded their success in Paris last year seem finer still this time round, even before they have left home soil. For the jockey, two mounts at Ascot today represent the hastiest of preparations after an absence since July; for the horse, meanwhile, conditions for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe are becoming less congenial by the hour.
Workforce was flown all the way home from Louisville last autumn, with the Breeders' Cup Turf at his mercy, when connections deemed the going hazardously firm. As yet there is little suggestion they may end up doing the same on Sunday, but his trainer was candid in his anxiety yesterday. "He's a big, heavy horse and we do like good ground for him," Sir Michael Stoute stressed. "We're a long way from it at the moment, and someone's going to have a look at the track and give us an update. I am concerned."
On soft ground at Longchamp last year, Moore managed to weave a clear passage through a very rough race. Workforce does have some top-class form on fast ground, not least in running away with his Derby, but his honourable defeat by So You Think over 10 furlongs in the Eclipse reiterated that his forte will never be sudden acceleration. It will also concern some that he was last seen hanging uncomfortably across the track in the King George, at Ascot in July, but he did sustain a cut on the home turn that day.
"He has had a nice break since and I've been very happy with his preparation," Stoute told At The Races. "We took him to Sandown last week, where he had a satisfactory workout. It would have brought him on a bit more, but it's disappointing we're having this Indian summer. A mile and a half is his best distance [but] it does look a particularly strong renewal this year."
As for Moore, he has plainly worked very hard to meet his comeback target, having more or less had the rest of the year written off when fracturing a thumb and elbow in a fall at Goodwood. But even he can hardly bring the razor-sharp fitness and reactions of his peak form so cold into such a cauldron. Having said that, there were similar concerns about Ruby Walsh when he arrived at the Cheltenham Festival in March with one winner in four months, and he proceeded to ride a treble on the first day.
As it happens, two of Workforce's biggest rivals on Sunday might have been partnered by Moore in different circumstances. So You Think will presumably be ridden by Seamus Heffernan, as in both the Eclipse and the Irish Champion Stakes, while Snow Fairy, runner-up in the latter, is again ridden by Frankie Dettori.
Ed Dunlop, indebted to Moore for honing Snow Fairy in a gallop last weekend, formally committed the filly to the race after consulting her owners yesterday morning. Though Nathaniel duly dropped out, the Newmarket challenge was maintained – as anticipated overnight – by his stablemate, Masked Marvel. The St Leger winner is one of three supplementary entries at €100,000 (£90,000), along with Danedream, the German filly, and Meandre, representing a trainer seeking his eighth Arc in André Fabre. Though Reliable Man remains likely to drop out, a field of around 15 will look sufficiently congested to guarantee much interest in the draw this morning.
Meanwhile, Jack Mitchell's statement of contrition on the eve of his hearing failed to move the British Horseracing Authority. The young jockey, who tested positive to a metabolite of cocaine at Newmarket in the spring, begins a six-month ban next Friday but has vowed to return a new man in April. It was also an embarrassing day for a far more experienced colleague, Franny Norton earning a 40-day suspension for exceeding the alcohol limit in a sample taken at Chester in May.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Elusivity (5.15 Ascot) Has finally found his metier dropped to 6f, after several near-misses over longer trips, and a 4lbs rise does not reflect the ease of his breakthrough at Newmarket.
Classic Colori (2.55 Ascot) Just touched off at 16-1 for a competitive handicap at Newmarket last week, the pair clear, and compensation awaits if he has absorbed that hard race.
One to watch
Journalistic (Marcus Tregoning) is already more exposed than those who joined a bunch finish at Salisbury on Wednesday but deserves credit for hanging in there.
Where the money's going
Smarty Socks is 13-2 from 8-1 with Betfred for the Totescoop6 Challenge Handicap at Ascot tomorrow, while Decent Fella is 9-1 from 14-1. So You Think is 4-1 from 9-2 for the Arc.