The start of a new turf season on the Flat should be a cheerful rite of spring, but Town Moor today is as likely to prove white as green. It is almost as though winter is raging against the coming of the light. With snow forecast this morning, and more overnight, inspections have duly been scheduled for both days of the meeting.
At best, conditions at Doncaster are going to be pretty horrible – not least for those juveniles who raise the curtain in the Brocklesby Stakes – and fitness levels will be unsparingly exposed.
As it happens, stamina is the key to the day's most intriguing runner, Model Pupil in the William Hill Doncaster Shield. This looked a potential Derby colt for Charles Hills last spring, but he then disappeared until the backend, when turned over in a conditions race at Leicester. Tomorrow is his chance to make a fresh start. "He never works well at home, but he looks well," Hills said. "If all goes according to plan, we would like to think he might make up into a Cup horse."
He is opposed by Art Scholar, who won the last big prize of the 2012 campaign over course and distance in the November Handicap. His trainer, Mick Appleby, has consolidated that breakthrough with a productive winter round his local track, Southwell, but Art Scholar himself failed to do the same in Dubai.
The testing ground prompted William Haggas to scratch Nine Realms, the ante post favourite, for the William Hill Lincoln Handicap on Saturday. And the horse who replaced him at the head of the market, Lahaag, has been rejected by Paul Hanagan in favour of Eshtibaak – likewise trained for his employer, Sheikh Hamdan, by John Gosden.
Hanagan began his championship campaign in 2010 with a four-timer on the opening day, but last year Richard Hughes managed to win the title despite sitting out the whole of April, thanks to a controversial 50-day suspension picked up in India. That is one comfort available to Martin Dwyer, banned from 6 April to 31 May by stewards of the Royal Western India Turf Club.
Dwyer was deemed not to have ridden a favourite on her merits in a race in Mumbai in February, when local reports suggested that the rider had to be rescued from an angry mob and officials contrived to declare his mount a non-runner. The filly in question appears to have veered across the track, requiring Dwyer to pull out of a collision, but the ban is none the less set to be reciprocated here.
Ultimately Dwyer will be able to place his frustrations in perspective as he shares the sport's anguish for J T McNamara, the jockey who fractured two vertebrae in a fall at the Cheltenham Festival eight days ago. McNamara remains in intensive care at Frenchay Hospital, Bristol, where a statement was issued on behalf of his family.
"He is in a stable condition and his level of sedation is being reduced," the statement said. "Whilst his vertebral damage remains serious, he has not suffered a brain injury."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Mister Impatience (2.0 Doncaster) Stoutly bred, proven in testing ground, and laid foundations at two typical of his stable's middle-distance improvers.
Invincible Hero (4.10 Doncaster) Ran a blinder on his reappearance last season and this return to 7f is ideal for him.
One to watch
Becauseicouldntsee (Noel Glynn) Hinted at a return to form before tiring at Cheltenham last week, still bang there two out, and could make a bigger impact if again trying his luck at Aintree.
Where the money's going
Shamaal Nibras is 10-1 from 12-1 with the sponsors for the William Hill Lincoln at Doncaster on Saturday.