According to Bart Cummings, racing in this part of the northern hemisphere "isn't worth two bob". As trainer of 11 Melbourne Cup winners, his views warrant solemn respect.
As the owner of a pair of eyebrows purloined from the upper lip of a retired Edwardian brigadier, however, he is talking through his hat. If Cummings fancies putting his horses where his mouth is, he is very welcome to help himself to any of our prizes that may take his fancy – though he would be within his rights to observe that he will hardly do that when the most he could take home to Australia is, well, about two bob.
It is perfectly understandable if the old boy feels aggrieved about the loss to Ballydoyle of So You Think. He must feel as though he woke up one morning to find that his prize bull had been rustled by Celtic reivers. And, in fairness, So You Think has not really met any opposition worth the name in two leisurely starts for his new stable. All that is sure to change, however, in what looks a vintage year on the European Turf.
The supererogatory excellence of Workforce's comeback at Sandown on Thursday confirmed the present crop of older horses as stronger than in many seasons. Certainly, if Cummings has one competent to whip Goldikova and Canford Cliffs over a mile, then we'd all love to get acquainted. As for the three-year-olds, we have already seen a freak of the ages in Frankel, and this time next week we will discover who succeeds Workforce on the Investec Derby roll of honour.
Many people seem to think the engravers might as well crack on with Carlton House. Arguably, this perception owes rather too much to the simple alignment of his trainer's superb Derby record, and a saccharine sense of destiny on behalf of his owner. A more objective assessment is available from Timeform, who rank Carlton House 1lb behind Roderic O'Connor, just 2lb ahead of Native Khan, and 3lb in front of Seville and Recital.
The docile way Seville was ridden in the Dante gives him every right to give Carlton House a tougher time over the longer trip. And André Fabre's paean for Pour Moi on Thursday has, meanwhile, ignited overdue market interest in the French raider, whose trial in the Prix Greffulhe at Saint Cloud definitely repays a YouTube search. He was a little free in the early stages, but no more so than Carlton House at York, and the way he streaked past the entire field in the straight was a neon announcement of stardom.
First, however, we must endure a calm before the storm so soporific that Cummings would be asking for change from two bob. In fact, much the best race of the weekend is a mere Listed prize over 14 furlongs at Leopardstown tomorrow, which brings together Rite Of Passage and Fame And Glory. The former has not been seen since winning the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot last year, while the latter is favourite to wrest away his trophy next month. Relieved of his middle-distance obligations by reinforcements at Ballydoyle – not just So You Think, but also Await The Dawn and St Nicholas Abbey – Fame And Glory introduces a dangerous edge of class to the staying division.
On the home front, matters have been complicated by the sudden arrival of rain on watered ground on the Rowley Mile, which had been desperately fast all spring. It proved an insuperable disadvantage to race near the stands rail yesterday.
Luca Cumani and Kieren Fallon combine in the first two races today with well bred, progressive three-year-olds. Dubai Queen certainly looks on a good mark – albeit the race contains several banana skins – while Naqshabban steps up to 10 furlongs after getting up late to beat the subsequent Musidora winner, Joviality, over a mile at Sandown on his reappearance. The style of that success and his pedigree guarantee better again over this trip, and he looks in the same mould as Afsare, who did so well for the stable last year.
Fallon also rides the bet of the day, for Nicky Henderson in the last race (see Turf Account). As for all the key players next Saturday, Fallon can only see these as useful skirmishes, ways to hone the timing and confidence for Epsom. Despite his association with Recital, who may yet go to France instead, Fallon seems committed to ride Native Khan in the Derby. And a first Derby for the monarch could hardly be saluted any more warmly, in betting shops at any rate, than a fourth for "King Kieren".
Chris McGrath's Nap
Veiled (5.45 Newmarket)
Thriving over hurdles for his new stable, excelling at Punchestown last time, and resumes off a mark just 4lb higher than when last successful on the level – by no fewer than nine lengths. Yard does very well with its few Flat runners.
Dubai Queen (2.20 Newmarket)
Dimension is well respected, but this Kingmambo half-sister to Dubawi is bred to be top-class and looks fairly treated on her defeat of two subsequent winners on her reappearance.
One To Watch
Turjuman (Willie Musson) soon had plenty to do at Sandown on Thursday but kept on through beaten horses for a midfield finish, suggesting that he might exploit a dwindling mark once stepped back up to 12f.
Where The Money's Going
Pour Moi is 9-2 from 5-1 for the Investec Derby with Paddy Power, who also laid Native Khan from 12-1 to 10-1; Havant is meanwhile 6-1 to 5-1 for the Oaks.