It has, to put it mildly, been a trying week for the British Turf.
Last Saturday, its most famous race produced such troubling images that few have since managed to temper revulsion with anything resembling balance or informed insight. In public relations terms, after all, to distinguish between undeniable stain and unwarranted smear is a fairly thankless task.
Meanwhile the scandalised sensibilities of the world beyond somehow remain indifferent to the plight of two young men lying unconscious in hospital beds. Each of them shares the hazards embraced daily by Tony McCoy and Ruby Walsh – but not their celebrity. Sure enough, nobody seems especially curious about the moral perspectives of a professional community in agonised vigil for Peter Toole and Richard Hawkins, injured in races at Aintree and Taunton respectively.
Fresh opprobrium may yet be imminent. Whether or not they condense into anything substantial, the racecourse has been abuzz in recent days with rumours about new allegations of race-fixing. And it is not as if the sport's internal agenda, away from all these lurid horrors, is especially comforting. The ongoing stand-off over prize-money, between racecourses and horsemen, has produced a first walkover in four years at Leicester today. The only "runner" is saddled by Harry Dunlop, who was fully complicit with the boycott and simply agreed that the racecourse should not be able to brush the race under the carpet, along with such prize-money as had been put up.
With all this in mind, there is something temptingly messianic about Frankel. Just when we need one most, along comes a wonder horse. What is more, he is obeying an apparent destiny as the colt to complete one of the most heart-warming tales of recent years – the return to the big time, against all odds, of Henry Cecil.
For those prepared to accept their cue from the present, pervasive morbidity, however, it might well prove worth taking on Frankel at very short odds in the Totesport Greenham Stakes at Newbury today. Already as low as 4-6 for the Qipco 2,000 Guineas, he certainly produced a couple of eye-watering displays at two, to compound his home reputation as Cecil's best prospect for many years. But it is a little unnerving that connections feel obliged to guarantee the pace with an animal as promising as Picture Editor, who might feasibly have started in an Investec Derby trial instead of serving as Frankel's valet. The favourite did betray a perilously energetic streak in his final start last year, and such horses are always liable to be especially eager when fresh.
And the thing is that this will not just be a routine session on the punchbag. In Strong Suit, he meets a colt of genuine elite ability, one who this morning looks excellent value himself for the Guineas at 20-1. Always rated the most talented juvenile in his prolific stable last season, Strong Suit thrashed good horses on his debut and then produced a breathtaking turn of foot to get out of trouble in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot. Repeatedly hampered that day, he was promptly quoted as short as 7-1 for the Guineas, only to be beaten in both subsequent starts. In each case, however, he can be readily pardoned. He saw too much daylight when mugged close home at the Curragh, and then coasted through the race before floundering off the bridle in deep ground at Newmarket.
Fast ground and a fast pace over the extra furlong here should enable Richard Hughes to stalk Frankel and pounce as and when Tom Queally, in a normal race, might otherwise ask his mount to dig deep. Frankel will surely be given a relatively conservative ride, with the Guineas just a fortnight away, and as such may find himself stuck, so to speak, between a rock and a hard race. As Cecil himself says: "The most important thing for him is just to have a sensible race. Whatever he does, I think he will come on a lot, as he has been limited with the firm ground and only working on the all-weather."
Cecil is said to have encouraging depth among his three-year-olds, and the fact that one putative Derby prospect was turned over at Newmarket during the week will not discourage the hype about World Domination when he makes his debut later on the card. His work has apparently been consistent with his christening and genes. His dam is Reams Of Verse, but she is not the only Oaks winner with a son making his debut on the card. Voodoo Prince, by Kingmambo out of Ouija Board, is preceded to the last race by a great deal of excitement at the in-form stable of Ed Dunlop.
Hope springs eternal on the racecourse, thank goodness, whatever the challenges to be endured. Anyone who saw Magic City in the opener at Newbury yesterday had no doubt that they had just seen the fastest juvenile of the season to date, and there was a series of promising three-year-olds on show, too.
For those who still have a stomach for marathon steeplechases, meanwhile, the Coral Scottish National sets a puzzle at Ayr today, with so many horses squeezed out of the handicap. Chicago Grey is no mere slogger and looks on a fair mark, so long as a tough season has not caught up with him – the way it already has, it must be said, for many of us on the sidelines. Jump racing, just now, would not be the sport's strongest suit.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Mandurah (2.30 Ripon)
Very well handicapped on his best and, having returned to David Nicholls, shaped nicely over a sixth furlong at Thirsk last week, and will last longer restored to the minimum trip.
Montparnasse (3.00 Ripon)
Good progress through his first campaign, and this son of Montjeu looks the sort to improve for castration since leaving Manton to join the in-form Kevin Ryan.
One To Watch
Tell Dad (Richard Hannon) is guaranteed to win good races judged on his debut at Newmarket on Wednesday, only just worried out of it by an experienced rival.