The first Classics of the season, at Newmarket this weekend, cannot come soon enough to stem the noxious tides of the Godolphin steroids scandal. Ripples of suspicion have extended so far across the Turf over the past 10 days that a backwash of resentment has now been drawn all the way from Australia.
Peter Moody, who last month retired Black Caviar after 25 unbeaten starts, indignantly denied insinuations that her immaculate career might have been tarnished by steroids. On a more positive note, promoters of Royal Ascot will already sense the stakes being agreeably raised – in an Ashes summer – for the next posse of Australian raiders, which is set to include Black Caviar's half-brother, All Too Hard.
The fact is that Mahmood al-Zarooni, the disgraced trainer last week banned for eight years after 11 of his horses had tested positive for anabolic steroids, would not have been in breach of the rules either in his Dubai homeland or in Australia. That anomaly has since renewed speculation about the kind of artificial stimulus that might have sustained the development of various brawny Australian sprinters at Ascot over recent years.
Five years ago Mark Johnston, himself a vet, incensed a number of Australian trainers by suggesting that Takeover Target, a winner at the 2006 meeting, should never have been invited back after subsequently failing a drugs test in Hong Kong. Moody himself was quoted saying: "If someone like Mark Johnston wants to train like they did 200 years ago, then good luck to him. You've got to look at every advantage within the rules."
But Lee Freeman, who won the 2007 King's Stand Stakes with Miss Andretti, had already responded to the mutterings of the past week by stressing that his mare never received steroids. And Moody told Sydney newspapers that Black Caviar's own career intake amounted to "nil".
"Steroids increase bulk," Moody said. "Black Caviar was a huge mare from the day she was born. It would have been absolutely counter-productive." He said that Black Caviar had been tested "clean" straight after her arrival in Britain, and again three days before her race. And he turned his guns on those "lily-white" British trainers who take a when-in-Rome approach to anti-bleeding medication at the Breeders' Cup. "They bang on about steroids but they are the first to use Lasix when they campaign horses in the US," he said. "Maybe the Poms might start looking at themselves rather than us."
The notion that Zarooni might appeal against his ban, meanwhile, seems thoroughly outlandish, his sole contribution to the hearing last Thursday having been to express guilt and contrition. In seeking the "opinions" of his Facebook friends, he could only expect them – or anyone else – to take him seriously if he were suddenly to disown the version of events he offered the British Horseracing Authority. Zarooni had originally been scheduled to have legal representation, but for some reason ultimately waived that right.
Pending any such surreal twist, many will finally hope to turn their attention to the Qipco 2,000 Guineas on Saturday. The men behind Toronado, heavily backed since his trial success, approach the race in top form and produced another pair of impressive winners at Ascot today. Anticipated saw off four other previous scorers in a novice race, while Ninjago showed striking acceleration in a Listed race contested by a big field of young sprinters.
Whether either will return to the same course next month remains to be seen, but there was an obvious royal lustre to a couple of others – literally so in the case of Estimate, who carried the monarch's silks in the Longines Sagaro Stakes. Her decisive success was warmly received by a big crowd, lured by free entry and glorious spring sunshine. Winner of the Queen's Vase over the same trip at last year's royal meeting, she is now 8-1 from 20-1 with Paddy Power for the Gold Cup over another half-mile.
Fencing looks set for the fulfilment that eluded him in a light campaign at three, winning with real authority on his first start since the champion trainer decreed a gelding operation. "He wasn't going to be a stallion and has returned a bigger, braver horse," John Gosden said, an edifying reminder there are more conscionable means of achieving the ends that have led others astray.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Corn Snow (4.30 Redcar)
The Codger (5.35 Redcar)