No matter what the sport, traditional playing fields and arenas have an atmosphere and frisson all their own and yesterday at one the former champion jockey, Kieren Fallon, talked through some of the technicalities that have made him the master of another. The occasion was the promotion of the weekend's two-day extravaganza at Newmarket, where the 202nd 2,000 Guineas and the 197th 1,000 Guineas will lay down the seasonal marker for a generation. The venue, slightly incongruously, was Lord's; but racing and cricket share a centuries-old heritage as the best-documented of any of man's organised delights.
Fallon will ride the second favourite Seta for trainer Luca Cumani in the fillies' race on Sunday. And, with groundsmen and their mowers preparing the hallowed St John's Wood turf for Middlesex's County Championship match against Gloucestershire today, he used a suitable enough analogy to try to explain the potential problems he might face in his quest for his ninth Classic on the Rowley Mile.
"When a bowler bowls a ball," he said, "it looks as if all he does is just throw the thing down the pitch to the batsman. I'm not a cricketer but I am a sportsman and I know there is very much more to it than that. And, although the course at Newmarket is dead straight, and people might think that all a jockey has to do is point and kick, there's a bit more to it than that. It's actually one of the hardest courses there is to ride."
The wide expanses of the Rowley Mile can be deceptive in their perspective; the temptation for the inexperienced is to go for home too soon. But more than that is the undulating topography of this trickiest of pitches, in particular the infamous Dip a quarter of a mile out, a downhill run of a furlong before an equally sharp rise to the finishing line.
"It comes at the most crucial time of the race," said Fallon, "just when you're starting to get your horse ready for the final effort. You want him or her to be balanced and travelling smoothly as you start the descent, but if you start to get organised too early and start using up fuel then you won't have enough left for the run uphill.
"If you try to start to accelerate going downhill you risk becoming unbalanced and if you leave it too late the others will have got first run. It's a very fine line to decide where and when to go."
Some horses are more naturally athletic than others and cope with ascents and descents and the run down into the Dip has found out many an otherwise talented animal. "There are some who just can't gallop downhill properly," added Fallon, "no matter how well you organise them and time your challenge."
The Irishman had a difficult choice to make ahead of the Stan James-sponsored 1,000 Guineas, which he has won before on Sleepytime, Wince, Russian Rhythm and Virginia Waters, between Seta, trained by Luca Cumani, and Music Show, from the yard of Mick Channon. Neither trainer has yet captured the prize.
Fallon rode Music Show to victory on the track both in the Nell Gwyn Stakes two weeks ago, the Noverre filly's fifth outing, and the Rockfel Stakes last year, and has no doubts about her ability to handle the contours.
Seta, a tall, pale chestnut daughter of Pivotal, is much the less experienced of the pair, having raced only twice, and not yet this year. But although she has not yet galloped into the Rowley Mile Dip in anger – winning on the July Course on her debut last August – she lived up to her name with silky strides in a practice run on the course last week.
It was a performance which convinced Fallon she was the one. "Music Show is a very good straightforward ride, and a very good filly, and she's been there, done that on the Rowley Mile against good opposition," he said. "But I just feel that Seta has more innate talent, more class. The last part of the jigsaw is the homework and she really impressed me with the way she cruised down that hill."
*Sue Montgomery's Nap
Agent Archie (Yarmouth 4.40)
Won a Goodwood maiden on fastish ground last term, staying on strongly, and should relish the step up to today's 10-furlong trip.
* Next best
Madam Roulin (4.00 Lingfield)
Held in good regard at home and may be seen to better effect this term dropped back in trip.
*One to watch
Lightly raced four-year-old Jonny Mudball (T Dascombe) failed to justify support at Doncaster first time out this season but was not beaten far in a blanket finish, remains relatively unexposed and should strip fitter next time.
* Where the money's going
Ladbrokes report the Godolphin 2,000 Guineas contender Al Zir the heftiest plunge ahead of Saturday's Classic, backed from 20-1 to 12-1 yesterday.
*Chris McGrath's Nap
Emma's Gift (2.10 Yarmouth)