A faint heart popularly ne'er wan a lady fair, but if Rabbie Burns was a racing man, he would undoubtedly add prizes at Warwick today to his sage observation. The Midlands track, drenched by rain yesterday, will be no place for any but the most dogged, particularly in the afternoon's richest contest, the marathon Classic Chase.
Warwick is already in the spotlight over underfoot conditions; the British Horseracing Authority's disciplinary committee is currently considering its verdict after this week's inquiry into the controversial abandonment of a meeting in September. The ground deteriorated to heavy after 15mm of rain yesterday and a precautionary inspection is scheduled for seven o'clock this morning.
The most telling statistic in the £70,000 three-mile, five-furlong feature is a weighty one. In 16 runnings only three winners have carried 11 stone or more. That would rule out nine of today's field and, if another anorak's delight is added, one of the five remaining may have to be removed too. Only three market leaders have prevailed; last year's 2-1 victor Ladalko, under 11st1lb, was the most recent to buck both trends.
Progressive Arnold Layne, seeking a four-timer, passed Trust Fund at the head of the betting once it was announced that Tony McCoy would take over from suspended regular jockey Andrew Thornton. And in saying she was happy to secure "the best available" the nine-year-old's trainer Caroline Bailey was surely guilty of severe understatement, as anyone who watched the champion force Adare Prince home at Huntingdon yesterday will attest.
The Ulsterman's insistence that his mount, who looked for all the world out of it as he lost ground on the leaders between the last two fences, should not give up the chase was a masterclass of perseverance, strength and judgement. Ironically, it was Thornton who was pipped in the dying strides on the runner-up.
Arnold Layne, a son of that great sire of staying chasers, Roselier, has risen steadily in the handicap, and deservedly so. The grey (named for the eponymous clothes-line thief of the Pink Floyd hit song) completed his hat-trick last month with an excellent display of jumping over today's course and distance.
Up with the pace throughout, as is his way, he defied top-weight to beat The Gangerman, the pair miles clear of the rest. The runner-up went under by about an inch at Haydock next time and those behind have hardly dissed the form since either. Bengo, third, came out and scored at Leicester; Ironside, fifth, has won twice at Plumpton, including the Sussex National last Sunday; and Victory Gunner, sixth, bounched back with successes at Market Rasen and Chepstow.
Formerly a smart point-to-pointer, Arnold Layne (2.30) carried 11st 12lb last time and will think he is loose today with 10st 13lb, and can have Dick Saunders' daughter dreaming of Aintree in time. The sternest opposition may come from High Chimes, who looked as though he would relish a step up in distance when third at Haydock last month, and Trust Fund, bidding to give the Paul Nicholls yard, which sent out Eurotrek two years ago, a hat-trick in the race.
Arnold Layne is assuredly an improver, but in terms of upward mobility this season the prize surely goes to the hurdler Souffleur (3.00), who has risen more than three stone through the rankings since being tailed off at Newton Abbot on his first try over obstacles. He crowned his efforts with an easy win in the Grade One Challow Hurdle at Newbury last month and puts his new top-flight status on the line in today's Grade Two supporting feature at Warwick.
The one blip in his progress came when he was given an overconfident ride against today's rival Nenuphar Collonges but even without the 7lb pull he gets today would have been judged capable of reversing the form. The exciting five-year-old, whose name is French for prompter (his sire is In The Wings) is heading for the Ballymore Properties Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, but trainer Peter Bowen has one eye on the sterner challenge of the World Hurdle against his elders.
With most of Britain and Ireland under rain clouds yesterday, inspections have also been called this morning at Wetherby and tomorrow at Leopardstown, where the valuable card includes the €130,000 (£98,000) Pierse Handicap Hurdle – Island Life is suggested at long odds– and a good Grade Two novices' chase.
But no problems are envisaged today at free-draining Kempton. Smart chaser Nycteos returns to the Sunbury track to try to exploit his favourable mark over smaller obstacles (quite the fashion among trainers these days) in the Lanzarote Hurdle, but he may be thwarted by a horse who could prove an even bigger blot on the handicap, Panjo Bere (3.15). The ex-French four-year-old is proven in the mud, easily beat two subsequent winners on his British debut, and comes from last year's shrewd winning yard.
Nap: Panjo Bere (Kempton 3.15)
NB: Trust Fund (Warwick 2.30)