Gather together a group of farmers, of pensioners in the post office queue or of racehorse trainers and one subject more than any other is guaranteed to provoke a hissing intake of breath. Yesterday, the last-named collective were in fine weather-bemoaning form. Spring temperatures below normal and rainfall above, and the first Classic of the season only 23 days away, do not make life easy.
Though the sun was shining in Newmarket, the winds across the Heath have been chill. "The ground has actually been OK," said Sir Michael Stoute, in the process of preparing Confront for the 2,000 Guineas and Visit for the 1,000 Guineas, "but what you don't want at this stage is cold. But if it warms up from here we should be OK."
Both horses are owned by Khaled Abdullah; Visit will go straight for her Rowley Mile assignment without a prep run, but Confront, eyecatching winner of a conditions race at Ascot in October on the second of his two starts, is likely to take in the Craven Stakes at his home course next week. "He's a big fella, who was relatively backward last year," added Stoute, "and we now need to give him a race, to find out what we've got."
Twice Over, trained by Stoute's neighbour Henry Cecil, had spent the winter as one of the Derby favourites, but has been the horse for money lately for the Guineas. "That's what I read," said Cecil, "but you shouldn't always believe what you read. But he has been showing some speed, and sometimes when horses get more strength, they get faster." Twice Over has the Craven pencilled in; Cecil's other possible, Kandahar Run, goes for the Fielden Stakes.
On the high Lambourn Downs, Mick Channon, with the Jaber Abdullah-owned 1,000 Guineas prospects Nahoodh and Nijoom Dubai under his care, has been no warmer than his Suffolk colleagues. "We're all in the same boat, wet and cold," he said. "The fillies are healthy and well, but they're still backward in their coats."
Channon nominated Nijoom Dubai, a 50-1 winner at Royal Ascot, as the more forward of the pair. He then added – honestly but perhaps slightly tactlessly, given that he was speaking at a gathering hosted by the Guineas sponsors, Stan James – that he would be happy enough to miss the Classic if necessary. "The Guineas used to be the be all and end all," he said, "but there are now plenty of other targets later in the season, and we don't have to force the horses if they're not ready. Nahood has stacks of scope and a lot of quality and if I have to wait I will. The other little filly will be there, no problem."
Aidan O'Brien, beset by a bout of 'flu, sounded in much worse state than the equine residents of Ballydoyle, but was able to nominate four who could enhance their stallion prospects on the Rowley Mile next month. "Jupiter Pluvius would be our main one," he said. "He worked well this morning. Henrythenavigator would want fast ground. And we have Plan, and Zulu Chief. At the moment they're going on fine, but we haven't pressed any buttons yet."
An upbeat report came from the one place where the cold is not an issue. The Godolphin team is due back in Newmarket next week after a winter in Dubai, with chief 2,000 Guineas hope Ibn Khaldun backed up by Fast Company. "Ibn Khaldun has been so impressive in all his work," said racing manager Simon Crisford, "and is justifiably really pleasing us. Fast Company is lazier, but we know he's a good horse. We're quite excited; we're going into bat this time with a Group One winning two-year-old. Last year we just had a maiden winner."
The field for the 229th Derby was boosted by 13 yesterday, a record for the second entry stage, though the original line-up of 465 was the smallest for 15 years. Those trying their luck at a cost of £8,000 – instead of the yearling fee of £325 – include Alexandros, McCartney, Rio De La Plata and Young Pretender from Godolphin; Thewayyouare from André Fabre's yard; and Confront and Twice Over, as well as the last-named's stablemate Kandahar Run.
Tony Dobbin will ride for the last time in public this afternoon at his favourite track, Carlisle, with two chances of ending his career with a winner. The 35-year-old, partner of high-profile horses such as Lord Gyllene, One Man and Monet's Garden, rides novice hurdler Fistral before bowing out on Ballyvoge for his boss, Nicky Richards, in the appropriately named Dobbs Finale & Future Best Wishes Novices' Chase.
FONTWELL 2.20 Tampa Boy 2.55 Theatre Girl 3.30 Victree 4.05 Councillor jack 4.40 Count Kristo 5.15 War Pennant 5.45 Sesame Rambler.
BETTING 2,000 Guineas (3 May) Tote: 5-2 New Approach, 5-1 Ravens Pass, 13-2 Ibn Khaldun, 10-1 Fast Company, Jupiter Pluvius, Winker Watson, 14-1 Rio De La Plata, 16-1 Confront, Twice Over, 20-1 Henrythenavigator, 25-1 others.
1,000 Guineas (4 May) Tote: 5-1 Muthabara, 6-1 Spacious, 13-2 Natagora, 8-1 Sense Of Joy, 10-1 Cape Amber, 14-1 Psalm, 16-1 Kitty Matcham, Nahoodh, Savethisdanceforme, 20-1 others.
Derby (7 June) Tote: 4-1 New Approach, 8-1 Twice Over, 10-1 Washington Irving, 14-1 Curtain Call, Ibn Khaldun, 16-1 Confront, Thewayyouare, 20-1 Fast Company, Kingdom Of Naples, Rio De La Plata, 25-1 Achill Island, Alessando Volta, Kandahar Run, Prime Exhibit, Tajaaweed, Tartan Bearer, 28-1 City Leader, 33-1 others.Reuse content