It was almost as though he wanted to prove that any and all ranks of society can discover a common derangement in their fascination for racehorses. Carlton House, hot favourite to give the Queen her first success in the Investec Derby at Epsom on Saturday, was yesterday subject of the type of 11th-hour scare that seems de rigueur in this sort of situation. There remains every prospect that he will take his chance – and show his form – but he has certainly emphasised that even a monarch must accept the frailties latent in the breed's own majesty.
Carlton House was taken for X-rays yesterday morning after Sir Michael Stoute, his trainer, had perceived some swelling and tenderness in a foreleg the previous evening. It is presumed that the horse had knocked himself at exercise. Nothing alarming was disclosed, however, and it is hoped that some fairly routine care will suffice to secure his participation.
Since Carlton House won the Dante Stakes at York last month, much has been made of his owner's intimacy with the tribulations guaranteed by thoroughbreds. Sure enough, her racing manager described the Queen as "typically stoic" after he rang with the news.
"I would say at this point, from what I understand the injury to be, he has a pretty good chance of being there," John Warren added. "The next few days will obviously reveal more, but the trainer is optimistic that the horse is still on target.
"Carlton House galloped on Sunday and did a nice six-furlong blow, his last important blow before the Derby, and on Monday he did a routine canter. At evening stables on Monday, Sir Michael noted that his front joints were not quite a pair. This morning he decided to take a precautionary X-ray of his near-fore joint, which was marginally filled. It revealed no abnormalities, which was a huge relief.
"It could be the equivalent of a footballer straining his ankle. It was not evident in his cantering yesterday that he actually took a false step or anything, and the horse is sound this morning. Sir Michael decided to give him just trotting exercise. He was sound, and he's having an easy day. It will be a watching brief from now on. Luckily, his important work is out of the way. It would only be routine cantering that would be undertaken for the remainder of the week."
With no medication permitted in his system, so close to a race, Carlton House will have the affected area hosed and iced and wrapped, to heighten blood supply and so accelerate the healing process. "It's not as if the horse has to stand in his box because he's lame," Warren added. "We're still extremely hopeful, but it will be a day-by-day thing to watch. With soft tissue, it's not like a vehicle with a piece of metal."
It must be said that the news had been somewhat anticipated by tremors in the betting market, prior to a lunchtime statement. If nothing else, it triggered an overdue correction in a price that had come to seem artificially low – in the dubious expectation of some heedless public gamble – at just 5-4. Carlton House was matched at 100-30 on Betfair but had settled back to around 9-4 last night. Several of his rivals have been trimmed by the bookmakers, above all Pour Moi, who has now halved to 7-2 since André Fabre pronounced him the best Derby hope of his career last Thursday.
One way or another, it has certainly been a tumultuous start to Derby week. On Monday, Kieren Fallon had abandoned a commitment to the owners of Native Khan in order to ride Recital for his former employers at Ballydoyle – along, no less significantly, with Wonder Of Wonders in the Investec Oaks on Friday. Ed Dunlop, trainer of Native Khan, initially approached Olivier Peslier, who had ridden the colt when Fallon was suspended in the 2,000 Guineas, but he has obligations at Longchamp on Saturday. That opened the way for Johnny Murtagh, whose Derby record is a match even for Fallon, the man he replaced at Ballydoyle, until resigning at the end of last season.
"Getting Johnny is a real coup, and we are very happy about it," Dunlop said. "He has already won the race on Sinndar, High Chaparral and Motivator, and is a world-class jockey with a fantastic record around Epsom. Obviously, it was disappointing hearing that Kieren had changed his mind, and I felt particularly sorry for the owners, who wanted him to ride and thought that they had their man. But it's no big deal."
Murtagh will also ride Dancing Rain, a well-backed outsider for the Investec Oaks. He expressed gratitude to the Aga Khan and John Oxx, to whose service he returned after leaving Ballydoyle, for excusing him commitments in Ireland.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Pepper Lane (8.10 Ripon) Looked a different filly on her return over course and distance, and may well be equal to a 9lb higher mark.
Kepler's Law (3.45 Nottingham) Landed the nap last week and worth following under a penalty.
One to watch
L'Ami Louis made an encouraging handicap debut when third over 6f at Newmarket on Saturday and could do better again dropped to the minimum.
Where the money's going
William Hill laid Dancing Rain from 16-1 to 14-1 in the Investec Oaks on Friday.