Once again, as when Most Improved hobbled away from the Craven Stakes at Newmarket on Thursday, the favourite for a key Qipco 2,000 Guineas trial has dropped out at the 11th hour. Roger Charlton has decided that it would be looking for trouble to run Top Offer in deteriorating conditions at Newbury today, just a fortnight before the Guineas, and duly scratched him from the Aon Greenham Stakes.
It is a pretty exasperating situation for the Beckhampton trainer, who must now reconcile himself to running a maiden winner in a Classic on only his second start. Even as it was, of course, Top Offer would have had to raise his game against proven Group One operators today, with Bronterre (3.10) looking especially underrated on his achievements as a juvenile.
Despite losing his main Guineas candidate when Harbour Watch suffered a setback, Richard Hannon has already sent out Trumpet Major to win the Craven by five lengths. And Bronterre finished a neck in front of his stablemate when they were fourth and fifth respectively, just behind Most Improved, in the Dewhurst Stakes. He showed plenty of speed that day, only to drift under pressure, and can be expected to see out the race better – being a more obvious type than Trumpet Major, certainly, to develop physically from two to three.
Caspar Netscher, in contrast, will surely have come closer to the limit of his potential in such a hectic schedule at two. In fairness, he so thrived on his workload that he looked unlucky not to make a Group One breakthrough in his ninth start, in the Middle Park. One who retains more scope for improvement is Spiritual Star, who may have found the Dewhurst too much, too soon, after a striking maiden win. He is unproven in soft ground, however, whereas Bronterre proved able to glide through easy conditions when running away with a Listed race at Goodwood.
Hannon also won the fillies' trial at Newmarket and duly sets the standard in the Dubai Duty Free Fred Darling Stakes, as well. Best Terms won her first four starts at two, but her hallmarks were speed and precocity, and she lacks physical scope.
This seventh furlong is uncharted territory, not least on ground that may yet prompt her withdrawal. One way or another you couldn't rule out a shock in a race that seems sure to expose different degrees of readiness. Only a diffident recommendation is possible, then, for Switcher (2.35). But she handled soft ground well when a good fourth at Royal Ascot on only her second start, and offers a nice blend of potential and experience.
Though Bridge Of Gold (2.00) has not been seen since his close second last year, a good record when fresh makes him look tempting at decent odds in the John Porter. There are horribly competitive handicaps under both codes on Channel 4. Several eye-catchers from the Lincoln meeting reconvene in the Berry Bros Rudd Spring Cup, perhaps the pick being Fury (3.45) back on this softer ground. Disappointing last year, he looks back on track after castration.
Merigo is obvious in the Coral Scottish National at Ayr, returning off a very fair mark after finishing first and second in the last two runnings, while Be There In Five is interesting at a big price.
But there are better reasons than sentiment for believing that Jonjo O'Neill and Tony McCoy can experience a more fulfilling side of their sport than they did at Aintree last week. For Galaxy Rock (3.25) remains unexposed at extreme distances, and looked to be coming to the boil over hurdles last time.
The emphasis is increasingly on the Flat, however, even if the overdue spring rains ensured that they finished strung out like staying chasers on yesterday's card at Newbury. William Haggas had no complaints, mind, after introducing two very striking debut winners in fillies' maidens. Each did the job in very different style, Sentaril coasting through the field and easing clear in a strongly run race over seven furlongs and Vow running green in rear before winding up through the gears over 10. Dancing Rain won on the same card for Haggas last year before proceeding to win the Investec Oaks, and Vow is now likely to be prepared for an Epsom trial herself.
The Dewhurst form ostensibly received another boost when Ektihaam won what tends to be an instructive conditions race, but the colt had plainly not been himself when trailing in last at Newmarket. Roger Varian, his trainer, for now needs persuading that Ektihaam might stay beyond 10 furlongs - and perhaps the promising runner-up, Wrotham Heath, might yet prove a Derby type back on decent ground.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Galaxy Rock (3.25 Ayr)
Fury (3.45 Newbury)