Every shuffle of this season's sprinting pack has produced a different hand and the latest was no exception.
The division is still in search of a definitive king but the latest ace to be dealt was a queen as the filly Moonlight Cloud returned to her best to run right away from her male rivals in yesterday's Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville.
The daughter of Invincible Spirit scorched home by four lengths under Thierry Jarnet. Her victims included the winners of the two previous European Group One dashes; Society Rock, who had taken the Golden Jubilee Stakes, was an honourable second, but Dream Ahead, made favourite on the strength of his July Cup victory, finished a lacklustre seventh.
Moonlight Cloud, a Freddy Head-trained stablemate of another top-class amazon in Goldikova, started favourite for the 1,000 Guineas but flopped behind Blue Bunting, with a long delay at the start put forward as one reason. Another is very likely lack of stamina for a mile in elite company and yesterday's drop back to six and a half furlongs brought her first success at the top level.
It gave Head his fourth in the past six runnings of the contest and very nearly a one-two after his veteran triple winner Marchard D'Or failed by a neck to catch the James Fanshawe-trained Society Rock. Genki was a nose behind in fourth, in front of another British raider, the early trailblazer Wootton Bassett.
"She was disappointing in the Guineas," said Head, "but she has always had class and this sort of distance is much better. They went a good pace and she settled well."
A slight step up in trip, to the seven furlongs of the Prix de La Forêt is planned for George Strawbridge's colourbearer, with Society Rock, Genki and Dream Ahead due to regroup in the Sprint Cup at Haydock over six. The last-named's trainer, David Simcock, was as mystified as any at the display by the three-year-old, who was never galloping with any elan under William Buick. "The gap was there for him, he just couldn't go through it," he said.
Some dreams are, however, still running. At the Curragh, Maybe consolidated her place at the head of the market for next year's 1,000 Guineas with a comfortable and thoroughly professional success in the Debutante Stakes. The Galileo filly made it four from four under her trainer Aidan O'Brien's son Joseph as she passed the line two and a half lengths clear of Yellow Rosebud and is now as short as 7-2 for the mile Classic.
Her next outing will be Ireland's top juvenile filly contest, the Moyglare Stud Stakes, back at the Co Kildare track later in the month. "We've gone gently with her since her last race at Leopardstown," said the trainer, "and she's done that well today. She's a very nice filly and very smart."
After winning easily at Royal Ascot, Maybe won only narrowly next time as she idled in front, hence her rider's insistence yesterday that she stretched clear. But the value of her neck success at Leopardstown could not have been better or more instantly demonstrated when her immediate victim, La Collina, followed her into the Curragh winner's enclosure after winning the season's first top-level juvenile race, the Phoenix Stakes. The Kevin Prendergast-trained 33-1 shot wove through her field from last to first to mug Maybe's stablemate Power, the 7-4 favourite, in the final strides and win by a neck.
She has leapfrogged up the Guineas betting to 7-1 and will take Maybe on again in the Moyglare Stud Stakes. "The boss said he thought the young fillies might be better than the colts this year," said rider Declan McDonagh "and he could be right. This one was outpaced early and then I had to switch a couple of times but she's all heart."
Power's defeat lost him the 2,000 Guineas favouritism to Harbour Watch.
In the Royal Whip Stakes at the Curragh, the ultra-tough Banimpire put Dunboyne Express in his place as she gained compensation for her short-head defeat by Blue Bunting in the Irish Oaks. And in Düsseldorf the Epsom heroine Dancing Rain, only fifth in that Curragh Classic, stamped her class, making every yard of the running to take the German Oaks.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Backtrade (5.40 Windsor)
There was much to like about his debut fourth behind and in front of subsequent winners, before finding soft ground against him next time.
Dutch Heritage (6.00 Thirsk)
Is related to top sprinters and, though qualified for nurseries after three progressive runs, sticks to maidens with his stable jockey on for the first time.
One To Watch
La Zamora (David Barron) missed the break at Haydock and ran into traffic problems before finishing strongly.
Where the money's going
Ile De Re (Ian Williams) was cut across the board (most dramatically by Coral, 16-1 from 33s) for the Ebor after winning at Ascot on Saturday.