An enduring enthusiasm for the Turf demands an ingenuous streak. On this day last year, two young Irish colts shared an epic duel for the Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket. Teofilo beat Holy Roman Emperor in a photo, but nobody could be certain that the result would be the same when they met again, over the same track, the following May. The prospect of the rematch in the 2,000 Guineas seemed exciting enough to abbreviate the dark winter in between.
As things turned out, neither would ever run again. Even thoroughbreds, as vulnerable as they are valuable, cannot easily harden us to such disappointment. Teofilo was injured, and Holy Roman Emperor – in a brazen admission that the mercantile cart must nowadays precede the horse – was marched off to stud as an emergency replacement for George Washington, whose fertility had failed.
Yet here we are again, wider of eye than ever, looking forward to a vintage race for the same prize. Teofilo even has a proxy, New Approach having travelled exactly the same path here, as another son of Galileo, trained by Jim Bolger. And of course there is a legitimate continuity between the pair. The return of Bolger to the elite of his calling has enriched the legacy already guaranteed by the achievements of his protégés, Aidan O'Brien and Tony McCoy. He is known as rigorous, durable, ascetic. But these flinty adjectives must be leavened by the delicacy of his instinct.
For all his austerity, Bolger is not immune to immodesty when it comes to his horses. Few trainers, having exalted Teofilo, would have dared to describe New Approach, so soon afterwards, as the European version of Secretariat. But the colt is certainly matching his billing so far.
In principle, it is possible to envisage Rio De La Plata avenging his defeat in the National Stakes at the Curragh last month. The Godolphin colt gave New Approach a lavish head start, being delayed in his run, and was the only one to make meaningful inroads into his lead. But it required considerable effort from Kevin Manning to pull up New Approach before he reached St Stephen's Green, and there is a ruthless simplicity to the way this colt goes about his work. The autumn ground and distant horizon will make him very hard to beat. It may not be pretty, but it should be pitiless.
Rio De La Plata has since confirmed his calibre by outclassing rivals for another Group One prize in France, but the ground that day was apparently as soft as he cares for. It is also harder for horses of such sharp wits to hold their form so late into the season.
There are also concerns about the ground for Raven's Pass, who demolished the subsequent Royal Lodge Stakes winner by seven lengths at Sandown last time, melting stopwatches in the process. He looks a monster in his own right, and nobody can possibly say how good he is. The only reservation is that his trainer – who must be gratified to see his return to Newmarket vindicated so handsomely this season – suspects him to be best on fast ground.
With two other incalculable talents in Moynahan and Fast Company, it would surely pollute this marvellous showdown to have a bet. Those who insist on doing so must go with New Approach (2.40). After last year, however, the rest of us really need to cling to our innocence.
Mount Nelson may rise from obscurity
Having spent many days during the past fortnight in the Old Bailey, perched just a few feet from Kieren Fallon, it now seems an awfully long time since we had previously sat down together. That was at Ballydoyle in the spring, when he singled out two horses as a particular source of comfort in his ongoing travails.
One was Dylan Thomas. "You'll see the real Dylan this season," he promised. And so we have. The other was Mount Nelson. Here, Fallon declared, was Ballydoyle's Epsom colt. Unfortunately, we have seen no more of him since than of Teofilo or Holy Roman Emperor.
Today, at long last, Mount Nelson resurfaces in the Emirates Airline Champion Stakes at Newmarket. Even by the pioneering standards of his trainer, Aidan O'Brien, it is surely too much to expect him to win this on his first start in a year. But he is certainly a fascinating runner, and will at least have the advantage of freshness.
In his absence, eight Ballydoyle colts did make it to the Derby – and Eagle Mountain (3.15) ran an extraordinary race, cutting through from last place to chase home Authorized. That massive effort seemed to take its toll, because he did not cope anything like as well as most O'Brien horses with a busy schedule afterwards. Freshened up by a ten-week break, he can crown a magnificent season not only for his trainer, but for the jockey who has prospered most from Fallon's absence, Johnny Murtagh.
Notnowcato, the favourite, ran an uncharacteristically flat race here last year, and has once again been on the go since April, soaking up some exceptionally tough battles on the way. Creachadoir made a slick debut for his new stable last time, but did not seem to stay when trying this trip for the only time in the spring. But while Multidimensional needs to improve, he remains entitled to do so after just five races.
As for Fallon, one of six men denying charges of conspiracy to defraud, at least his trial is moving along quicker than had been expected. The judge this week told the jury that they could expect to be required for "considerably" less than the original estimate of four months.
Sunley to show a leg in £2.5m Scoop6
Most readers of the sports pages have probably had enough of the Russians this week, but they have performed some valuable services in their time. The Cesarewitch was first run in 1839, in honour of a donation made by Tsarevich Alexander to the Jockey Club.
Today this venerable handicap is sponsored by Totesport, who are anticipating a Scoop6 win pool of £2.5 million after five rollovers.
Somehow the draw has historically proven significant, despite the extreme distance – the huge field marooning low numbers on the outside. Enjoy The Moment has the right man on board to cut a few corners, but among those drawn high the pick is Sunley Peace (3.55), a young stayer on the upgrade who has been imploring his trainer for such a savage test of stamina.
In order to protect the big pool, the Scoop6 includes the sprint handicap at Catterick instead of the Dewhurst, but Matsunosuke (3.40) is in such rude heart that he could prove a banker for many.
There are also attractive bets in both legs of the bet at Cheltenham. Ofarel D'Airy (2.20 nb) appeals off his lower hurdles rating, having shown ample promise last autumn before being tempted over fences by a generous weight allowance.
Knowhere (3.30 nap) lost his way last spring but his mark has come down as a result, and he is now just 2lbs higher than when beating all bar Exotic Dancer himself here last November. With his stable going so well, he can make his class tell.
Tramantano return is music to the ears
In the annual symphony of racing, only a few more flourishes remain for the string section; for the fleet, lustrous harmonies of the Flat. Increasingly the conductor's baton beckons the brass instruments, the deep, resonant music of the jumpers.
At this time of year, the interplay can be ravishing. Yesterday, for instance, attention was divided between four successive juvenile races at Newmarket, and the first meeting of the season at Cheltenham.
At Newmarket, John Gosden tasted success in one of the maidens for the seventh time in 10 years, Mukhber looking yet another exciting prospect for his stable as he bolted up on his debut. And Henry Cecil also has promising material for next season, Kandahar Run beating five previous winners decisively in the Houghton Stakes.
Proceedings at Cheltenham were dominated by the flourishing new partnership of Nigel Twiston-Davies and Paddy Brennan. Their three winners included Tramantano, making his first appearance in 656 days in the novice chase. Brennan pounced late on the free-running Marodima – the first runner prepared by Paul Nicholls for David Johnson, long the mainstay of his old rival, Martin Pipe.
"Hopefully he can go to the top," Twiston-Davies said of Tramantano. "He never had any huge problems, just a few niggles with his legs. But he was good enough to leave. I'd like to think he'll be back here in March for the Arkle Chase."
Baronet gesture shows us soft side
And all the time, like an unrelenting, accelerating backbeat, Seb Sanders and Jamie Spencer keep slugging it out at the top of the jockeys' championship. Yesterday, however, Sanders landed a brutal blow, perhaps a decisive one, by winning on four of his five rides at Redcar.
Spencer managed one, before fleeing for an evening at Wolverhampton, but the score by then had reached 168 to 161. True, Sanders has a two-day suspension to negotiate, and there are still three weeks to go, but it is going to be uphill work for Spencer now.
No doubt he considers it instructive that Sanders will spend Champions' Day at Catterick, before they cross swords again at Wolverhampton later tonight.
Interesting to see that Sanders' employer, Sir Mark Prescott, had booked Frankie Dettori for Souvenance in the Jockey Club Cup at Newmarket. As it turns out, she does not run – but Prescott certainly has no runners at Catterick. Surely he can't have allowed his stable jockey to bunk off there in pursuit of the drivers' title? Is the honourable baronet going soft in his old age?