Over the wall, where Ed Dunlop is preparing Native Khan for Saturday, a man who has already won the Investec Oaks is now hoping to win his first Derby. At Somerville Lodge, however, those ambitions will be transposed when Dancing Rain lines up in the fillies' race tomorrow. As such, even those familiar with the fastidious deployment of his horses may be startled to discover that Dancing Rain is only William Haggas's second runner in an Epsom Classic.
His first, Shaamit, was audaciously produced to win the 1996 Derby on his first start of the season. Given the trainer's manifest competence for the Epsom challenge, you would imagine that commensurate horses would routinely find their way to his Newmarket stables. But Haggas reckons he has had only one plausible Derby colt since Shaamit, and he broke down fatally after a promising debut.
"I won't run them for fun," he shrugs. "And somehow I don't have many that are bred to stay. But you just have to wait. One will come along. This time last year, Dancing Rain was hopeless. The owner had paid a lot of money for her, and I was giving very negative vibes. Then, around September, she suddenly started doing a bit better. We ran her in October, she finished second, and it's been onwards and upwards from there. So they can come."
Patience is proving necessary in more ways than one. His wife, Maureen, is fed up of hobbling around after breaking her leg in a stalls accident, while the yard's overall lack of rhythm is reflected by fewer than 100 runners over the past seven months. "They'll get there, they'll be fine," Haggas says. "You keep getting beat in photos, or drawn badly, or getting rain when you don't want it – that kind of stuff. But it just goes with the territory. When it's your turn, everything falls your way."
Perhaps that moment is imminent. Haggas has the favourite for the Hunt Cup in Green Destiny, and his Royal Ascot team also includes the 2,000 Guineas fifth Fury, who reverts to seven furlongs in the Jersey Stakes. And the very fact that he is prepared to run Dancing Rain against two Classic winners has prompted strong each-way support over the past week. The booking of Johnny Murtagh, meanwhile, ensures that trainer and jockey will be equally at home with their assignment.
After winning a Newbury maiden on her reappearance, over 10 furlongs, Dancing Rain returned to the same course and distance for what proved a slowly run trial and just failed to run down Izzi Top. "She's a lengthener, not a quickener," Haggas says. "We wanted her to make it, unless there was a really nice gallop, but Eddie Ahern decided to get a lead. I'm not critical of him, it's history. But while he was perched up on her, Izzi Top did her for a bit of foot and then she was staying on again at the finish. That form is probably not good enough, but our filly had previously had a bit of a blip so she blew quite hard afterwards. She's better than that. Whether she's good enough, I don't know – but nobody gave Ed a prayer with Snow Fairy this time last year."
As with Snow Fairy, Dancing Rain goes to Epsom with stamina to prove. "The sire, Danehill Dancer, is nearly impossible to read," Haggas admits. "He can get anything. There's some stamina in the dam side, but it's very much a two-way thing. I've always thought she races like she will be suited by a mile and a half. You have to go with your gut feel, and I don't consider it an issue."
Nor is he concerned by the notorious demands of the track. "It's not a straightforward place, obviously, and they've got to have a bit of agility," he says. "But Maureen, until she broke her leg, was riding this filly every day and says she's very well balanced, so we don't think that's an issue. We've got to go. As the owner quite rightly says, how many opportunities do you get to run in the Oaks with a chance?"
A dozen others stood their ground when final Oaks declarations were made yesterday. Carlton House seems certain to remain in the Derby field at the equivalent stage this morning, though the favourite's ankle strain is still being treated and monitored. John Warren, the Queen's racing manager, was making no rash guarantees yesterday. "We've got the next few days to see if it's cooling itself down," he said. "The good thing is the horse is sound and moving well. He's on trotting exercise but, of course, Sir Michael Stoute would love to be getting some good cantering into him at this point. Luckily, we've got the most experienced trainer in the country. The horse won't run unless he is completely content that he's sound."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Aine's Delight (2.50 Lingfield) Has been thriving over hurdles, winning her last three starts, and returns to the level off a good mark, entitled as a half-sister to Blue Bajan to be better again over this longer trip.
Tournedos (3.10 Hamilton) Contributed to his stable's golden run at Carlisle earlier in the week, produced on the bridle off a strong gallop, and remains fairly treated under a penalty.
Where the money's going
Memphis Tennessee is 20-1 from 33-1 with Totesport for the Investec Derby on Saturday, while stablemate Recital is 5-1 from 11-2 with Ladbrokes and Coral.