It is pretty depressing to become so distracted by what should or shouldn't be happening off the track, precisely when you should be preparing for what many of us consider the most exciting carnival on the racing planet. For the convergence of Zenyatta, Goldikova and Workforce at Churchill Downs next Saturday volunteers the 27th Breeders' Cup as one of the very best.
The home fires are no longer burning quite so brightly, admittedly, though you have to hand it to Richard Hughes for his amazing, dauntless challenge for the jockeys' title. Over the past few weeks he has shown unsuspected granite to fortify that familiar flair.
Hughes will miss the very final act at Doncaster, in order to ride Paco Boy against Goldikova, and is instead likely to wrap up at Southwell on Friday afternoon. But he reduced Paul Hanagan's advantage to just four at Newmarket yesterday, before heading off to square up to the leader at Wolverhampton, where Hanagan promptly won the first and third races.
Nor are the horses quite finished, with the participation of Roderic O'Connor in the Critérium International at Saint-Cloud tomorrow representing an unexpected bonus for those trying to take a winter position on the Investec Derby. Runner-up to Frankel in the Dewhurst Stakes on only his third start, he has a similar Epsom profile to another Ballydoyle colt in Seville, second in the Racing Post Trophy last Saturday. Ante-post punters will no longer have to wait until spring to get a better handle on his relative credentials.
Though a son of Galileo, like both Seville and Roderic O'Connor, Frankel himself has little prospect of staying a mile and a half next season, in the opinion of his trainer. And Henry Cecil may well have a better Derby candidate in Picture Editor, much the most interesting runner on the final Newmarket card of the year. Cecil chose the Bet365 Zetland Stakes for Twice Over in his youth and, while he has never run that one beyond today's trip, Picture Editor is a plausible stayer on pedigree and has certainly looked a very classy prospect in both starts to date.
Going the other way through the calendar's revolving door are jumpers of increasing calibre. Kauto Star is due to have a spin round Down Royal next Saturday, for instance, while today's Wetherby card as usual raises the quality a notch or two. Evan Williams, seeking a hat-trick in its big steeplechase, can be relied upon to have Deep Purple well forward once again, but first time out could be the time to catch Barbers Shop. Captain Cee Bee, one of the smartest novices at two miles last season, meanwhile resumes his chasing career over at Naas today. There remain, thank goodness, many reasons to be cheerful.
Chris McGrath's nap
Hernando Torres (2.10 Ayr)
Gelded after three spins in maidens and, given a break, unlucky not to land a gamble on his nursery debut at Nottingham earlier this month, caught in traffic before charging home to share a photo. Up 4lb3 for that, but plainly has far more ability than that initial rating allowed.
The Fifth Member (3.55 Ayr)
Long absence before his comeback at Ascot and showed the benefit when second at Newcastle the other day, going sweetly through the race and only denied by a rival in the form of his life. Runs off the same mark here and can justify long-distance raid from Epsom.
One to watch
Prince James (M W Easterby) had shown little since winning a weak maiden during the summer but his performance at Catterick on Tuesday permitted little doubt that he can surpass a modest rating once raised beyond 5f, going nowhere early but hitting top gear late on to rattle into fifth.
Where the money's going
Utley is 13-2 from 11-1 with William Hill, and 7-1 from 10-1 with Paddy Power, to give John Gosden his third consecutive success in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs next Saturday.
Chris McGrath, the 2007 winner, has been shortlisted as Racing Journalist of the Year for the fourth year running by the Horserace Writers and Photographers Association.