Nobody should need a particular pretext to come here, even on an afternoon like yesterday, when a cold wind hauled heavy cloud up from the Channel and the famous downland panorama seemed to sag miserably beyond the track. But the equivalent fixture last year had made attendance imperative for anyone hoping to go to Epsom, now barely a fortnight away, with all bases covered.
It must be doubted, admittedly, whether Beatrice Aurore and Masked Marvel can emulate the pair who passed their own Classic auditions here 12 months ago. Snow Fairy, at the time an angel entertained unawares, proceeded to win the Investec Oaks and ended the year as one of the most accomplished thoroughbreds on the planet. Rewilding, meanwhile, finished third in the Investec Derby, and has since won a huge prize in Dubai.
Between them, that pair stemmed a dispiriting decline in what was once an indispensable sequel to Chester and York – a decline to which the course management itself contributed, condensing the meeting to a single day, and downplaying races that had secured an 11th-hour passage to Epsom, not so long ago, for Dubai Millennium and Love Divine.
Happily, others still value the chance to test a later-developing three-year-old over an undulating track. And, whatever their possible shortcomings in class, both winners yesterday seemed to satisfy their trainers that each had merited a trip to Epsom.
Beatrice Aurore was beaten in a handicap at the Lincoln meeting, but had impressed here since, and was always going best before quickening a length and a half past Highest in the Casco Height Of Fashion Stakes. John Dunlop, her trainer, suspects that her stout maternal pedigree will sustain the Danehill Dancer filly through the longer distance at Epsom, for which she is 14-1 with Coral.
"We thought she was well handicapped, so had to start her off that way, but always hoped she would step up like this," Dunlop said. "She acts on fast ground, and on a tricky track, and I think she'll stay – she relaxed well today, off what was not a very fast pace. She might not be good enough to beat a real top one, but there are a lot of pluses and it might be worth a go."
John Gosden was taking a similarly pragmatic view after Masked Marvel built dramatically on a modest comeback, at Sandown last month, in the IBA Cocked Hat Stakes. Always going best, the Montjeu colt picked up brightly to go three lengths clear of Namibian, and offers copper-bottomed stamina for a stiffer test in the Derby.
"It was tacky ground at Sandown and he got very tired, but he wasn't really tuned there, to be honest," Gosden said. "It had been difficult getting him ready, with the dry spring, but his work has improved a bundle since. I'm not saying he beat champions out there, but I liked the way he quickened. He'll be left in the Derby. Someone has to turn up and get the places – that's the way I see it."
Masked Marvel was quoted 25-1 by Ladbrokes for Epsom, but Gosden knows exactly what he is up against in Carlton House. "I've been watching the favourite quite a bit this spring," he said. "And some of his work has been sensational."
Badeel dropped out very quickly and so appeared to leave Ocean War as Godolphin's most likely Derby contender – and, in turn, Frankie Dettori's most likely Derby ride. Casamento is likely to go for the Prix du Jockey-Club, at Chantilly the following day.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Loden (Salisbury 7.40) Good staying pedigree and clearly has more ability than his present rating, simply caught out by too sharp a test on his return at Windsor.
Levitate (6.55 Sandown) Could be thrown in, having qualified for a modest rating in juvenile maidens.
One to watch
Fulgur (Luca Cumani) Was set plenty to do at Newbury on Saturday and should come good when sent over 12 furlongs.
Where the money's going
Overdose is 2-1 from 5-2 with Coral to win his British debut in the Betfred Temple Stakes at Haydock on Saturday.Reuse content