The curtain comes down on another Flat season at Doncaster on Saturday, but its final day could yet open momentous new horizons for Ann Duffield. Having scored with her first runner in a Group race in September, when Melody Of Love won the Firth of Clyde Stakes at Ayr, the North Yorkshire trainer now heads across the Channel in the hope of a still bigger breakthrough.
Willie The Whipper, an eight-length debut winner who followed up in a Listed race at Pontefract last month, was yesterday supplemented to the last Group One race of the European campaign, the 10-furlong Critérium de Saint-Cloud. He will carry new silks, having been acquired by a rapidly expanding Qatari bloodstock empire since Pontefract.
"It's great to have [Sheikh Fahad] in the yard," Duffield said yesterday. "I'm very grateful they've bought the horse – and even more grateful that they are keeping him with me. I think he's going to be even better next year. I know it may seem like tilting at windmills, going straight from a Listed race to a Group One. It's only his third ever run, and he obviously hasn't had a great deal of time since his second one, but we know he handles the ground and he wants a trip. The jockey couldn't pull him up in either of his races."
The extra two furlongs will clearly play to the strengths of any two-year-old who can win over a mile in the mud at a track as testing as Pontefract, and Willie The Whipper is out of a Slip Anchor mare who won over 14 furlongs. As such, he could hardly be expected to draw attention to himself at the Irish breeze-up sale where Duffield found him for €21,000 (£17,000).
"We did like his breeze," Duffield said. "But we do try to buy terribly carefully. The fact is, we're not going to get anywhere near a horse that breezes absolutely brilliantly, but a lot of those are 'bridle' horses, anyway – and the day of their breeze is the best they might ever be. So we're always looking for the sort that might have plenty left in the locker."
On what must be counted an exceptional day's shopping, Duffield also spent just €5,500 on Cinderslipper, who won impressively first time out at Redcar on Tuesday. She owed an uninspiring breeze – and her subsequent christening – to the fact that she lost a front shoe.
Duffield could not see her debut, as she was saddling Melody Of Love to just miss out on further black type at Maisons-Laffitte. Things are hardly winding down at the end of the season. With another trip to Paris now on the agenda, Duffield was at the horses-in-training sales yesterday and is also busy planning a parade of 19 yearlings at her stables on Sunday week.
"The cheapest was four grand, the most expensive 40," she said. "We'd like more, of course, and we'd like the support of more top owners and breeders. We're not a big yard, and we're competing with some very good trainers in the North. But we think we offer value for money and we're very happy to aim high, and miss small."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Easter Diva (2.10 Lingfield) Good pedigree but earned a modest rating with his previous yard. Produced instant improvement switched to handicaps by his new trainer, just unable to reel in the winner after conceding first run.
Toughness Danon (5.50 Wolverhampton) On a long losing streak, but was smart in his youth and suggested that he retains enough ability to win off this rating when hampered and staying on for fourth on his last visit to this course.
One to watch
The well-bred Shamiana (Gerard Butler) Looks a bargain at 10,000 guineas, second on her debut at Newmarket last Saturday even though she had to close from off a steady pace.
Where the money's going
The unbeaten First Mohican remains in demand with the sponsors for the Betfred November Handicap at Doncaster on Saturday, now 3-1 from 4-1, while Clayton is 12-1 from 14-1.