Only the maddest-eyed of conspiracy theorists would read anything into it, but there was nonetheless a certain symmetry about yesterday's announcement that Twice Over will miss the 2,000 Guineas to concentrate on longer races. On Monday, the Henry Cecil-trained colt took over as market leader for the Derby when Jim Bolger removed winter favourite New Approach from the Epsom game. And now, with one of his perceived chief rivals a defector, New Approach has hardened at the top of the Guineas lists.
Though Twice Over, owned and bred by Prince Khalid Abdullah, beat the horse with whom he was disputing second favouritism for tomorrow week's first Classic, Raven's Pass, in the Craven Stakes, he needed every inch of the Rowley Mile to do so and his next task will be over 10 furlongs at York.
"After consulting with Henry Cecil," said Abdullah's racing manager, Teddy Grimthorpe, "the Prince has decided that Twice Over will miss the Guineas and run in the Dante Stakes, with a view to going to the Derby. The decision was taken with the horse's long-term future in mind."
Twice Over has already won over 10 furlongs – he took the Zetland Stakes as a juvenile – and seemingly is considered to defer to his dam Double Crossed, winner of a Lingfield Oaks Trial, rather than his sire Observatory, a top class miler, in terms of stamina.
But the Derby, which Cecil and Abdullah combined to win with Commander In Chief 15 years ago, is not yet indelibly inked in. "If after the Dante it was thought that the colt would not stay a mile and a half," added Grimthorpe, "then the Prix du Jockey-Club would become an option."
In fairness to Twice Over's connections, they left the Guineas decision open after the Craven Stakes, so ante-post punters knew they were taking a chance. Big-race sponsors Stan James cut New Approach to 2-1 from 9-4 yesterday.
Flat horses have been putting down markers for some imminent top-level dates with destiny; at Punchestown a longer-term line was drawn in the sand as Blazing Bailey confirmed his status as the horse most likely to take over from Inglis Drever as king of the long-distance runners.
Three weeks previously at Aintree, the admirable Alan King-trained six-year-old reversed Cheltenham form with the triple World Hurdle winner and followed up yesterday with a seven-length rout of his 11 rivals in the World Series Hurdle. Though rider Choc Thornton was hard at work for the last mile of the race, Blazing Bailey responded with typical doggedness to catch last year's winner Refinement at the last. "He's a real little grinder," said King, "so tough and genuine, just a very special horse."
The La Touche Cup, over the famous Punchestown banks, brought more than usual satisfaction to winning rider Ken Whelan, who drove 25-1 shot Oh Jackie to a hard-fought two-length success over 9-4 favourite Wonderkid.
Whelan had been on board the Tony Martin-trained runner-up when he finished sixth, also as favourite, in the cross-country chase at Cheltenham, and was replaced yesterday by Paul Carberry. Oh Jackie was Northern Ireland trainer Stuart Crawford's first success under rules, but Enda Bolger's bid for 11 successive wins in the unique race came to an end when Freneys Well could finish only fourth.
Today's Grade One feature at the Co Kildare track is the Champion Hurdle, in which four unsuccessful in the real thing at Cheltenham in March seek compensation. Sizing Europe, more or less pulled up after starting favourite at the Festival, will not be on the redemption trail; the injury that caused his eclipse is still niggling.
Hyperion's selections: 2.15 Skadrak 2.50 Straight Face 3.30 Near The Front 4.05 Playtotheaudience 4.45 Sovereignty 5.15 Floodlight Fantasy