There was rain that summer, too: August 2010, and the going at Newmarket was soft. But little could anyone realise, after two debutant colts by Galileo had fought out the finish to a mile maiden that evening, quite what a sunbeam had burst upon the British Turf. Some evidently had an inkling Nathaniel was pretty special, backing him from 7-1 to 3-1, but they would be dismayed to see him go down by half a length. And that remains as close as any horse has ever been to Frankel at the winning post.
After a superb reappearance at Sandown on Saturday, however, Nathaniel has raised the outlandish possibility that reprising the very first challenge of his career could yet demand a fresh peak from the great Frankel. For by winning the Coral Eclipse Stakes, ostensibly a prep race for the defence of the Betfair King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on Saturday week, Nathaniel has altered the meaning of both "discretion" and "valour" for connections.
They will surely hesitate, now, before hastening to Ascot so soon after such an exacting comeback – and not least because Nathaniel can suddenly build upon a new glamour as a stallion prospect. Trainers often start a returning horse over its minimum distance, encouraging it to settle and run on late without spending too long in top gear. At Sandown, however, jockey William Buick seized the bird in the hand. Nathaniel had the chance to become a Group One winner over 10 furlongs, and saw off a gruelling sequence of challenges in order to take it.
All things being equal, his trainer, John Gosden, might well prefer to freshen up Nathaniel and persevere over the intermediate trip in the Juddmonte International Stakes at York next month. And the fact that Frankel will almost certainly be heading there does not necessarily tilt the balance. For one thing, defeat by such a paragon would barely take a cent off Nathaniel's value. And if you are ever going to tackle Frankel, then his first venture beyond a mile might introduce at least a brief illusion of fallibility.
The one certainty is that Gosden will make the right call. Even in so decorated a career, the big man can seldom have had a run quite like this – something duly celebrated by admirers of his exceptional integrity and intelligence. His young stable jockey, meanwhile, is harnessing their mutual momentum as the foundation of an increasingly earnest title challenge.
Yesterday Gosden was careful to make no commitment over Nathaniel's next move. "Obviously it's there," he said of Ascot. "But because of the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, it's compressed this year and there are only two weeks between the races. That's not ideal, when you've had a lay-off and a tough race like yesterday. So we'll have to be watching and monitoring him daily. It's all very open at the moment. The horse will tell us."
For the rival who pressed him hardest, meanwhile, Saturday represented an unmistakable coming of age. There was a vivid moment when Farhh, produced with perfect timing by Frankie Dettori, switched his leading leg and discovered what it was to be an elite racehorse. In hindsight, his troubled run at Ascot probably spared Farhh a draining race, but the Godolphin team none the less deserves congratulation for consolidating the colt's rapid emergence.
The only three-year-old in the field, however, proved unable to redeem a generation that for now depends precariously for its distinction on the outstanding Camelot. Bonfire was lame yesterday, but Andrew Balding did not absolve him of another disappointing run.
"He's not lame enough to use it as an excuse," the Kingsclere trainer said. "He was just too keen and didn't give himself a chance to run his race. We are [going] back to the drawing board a little bit."
Chris McGrath's Nap: Head Space (2.30 Ayr)
Can confirm the impression that his excellent progress since joining Ruth Carr may surpass even his revised mark.
Next Best: Midnight Dynamo (3.30 Ayr)
Back down to the rating, and up to the trip, of her handicap success at Musselburgh last season.
One to watch: Many will give up on Elusivity (Brian Meehan) after failure at Sandown on Saturday but he finished fast.
Where the money's going: Giofra is 9-1 from 12-1 with Paddy Power for the Etihad Airways Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket on Friday.Reuse content