Yesterday was a day for hails and farewells in racing's kaleidoscope of change. Focus first on Newmarket; under a high blue Suffolk spring sky, Raven's Pass, one of the emerging stars of the new Classic generation, points his toe in an easy, nonchalant spin up Warren Hill. One shake, and the pattern becomes Cumbria; in a greyer, chillier setting, Tony Dobbin, one of the established stars of his weighing room generation, ends a fine career with a winner. And from Co Carlow comes news that Hedgehunter, an undoubted star of Aintree, has bowed out on his fourth Grand National completion.
Raven's Pass is the horse perceived as most likely to keep the 200th 2,000 Guineas at home, splitting Ireland's New Approach and Dubai's Ibn Khaldun at the top of the betting. He is also judged by his trainer, John Gosden, to be his best chance yet of victory in the Rowley Mile showpiece.
The imposing, impressive chestnut was on his best behaviour yesterday – indeed, almost smugly so both at exercise and winding down afterwards – but he is beginning to feel the joys of the quickening season and will have a prep race next week to take some of the tickle from his toes.
"He needs a run to take the excitement out of him," said Gosden. "He's a sweet horse and is relaxed in his canters. But when he works he is fresh and fizzy, bucking and squealing as he goes. He's too full of himself to go straight to the Guineas."
The Elusive Quality colt lost his unbeaten record when third to New Approach and Fast Company in the Dewhurst Stakes on soft ground, and underfoot conditions will determine whether he turns out in the Craven Stakes at his local track on Thursday or the Greenham Stakes at Newbury two days later.
"There were no excuses in the Dewhurst; he was third best on the day and in the conditions," said Gosden. "His father and mother went on ground like a road and when he moves, he doesn't bend his knee much, just flicks his legs out. I would very much like to take New Approach on again on good or good to firm ground. Then there would be no arguments."
Gosden has two fillies – Sense Of Joy and Infallible – lined up to try to repeat Lahan's success in the 1,000 Guineas and Centennial was supplemented earlier in the week to the Derby. Sense Of Joy, near the front of the lists for both fillies' races, will go straight to the Rowley Mile; Infallible will have an outing next week and Centennial will follow the Benny The Dip road to Epsom, starting in the Sandown Classic Trial.
The script at Tony Dobbin's favourite track, Carlisle, was played out to the satisfaction of all bar the stewards as the 35-year-old Ulsterman notched the 1,164th winner of his distinguished 18 years in the saddle, in the Dobbs Finale and Future Best Wishes Novices' Chase. Fittingly, the horse whose future fame will be as a quiz answer, Ballyvoge, was trained by Nicky Richards, whose late father, Gordon, shaped the career of one of the best, and best-liked, members of his trade.
Dobbin, given a guard of honour by his colleagues as he left the weighing room for the last time, had to work harder than expected on the 4-11 favourite and Michael McAlister, on three-quarter length runner up Lord Samposin, must now face a BHA inquiry under the rule that covers non-triers.
Dobbin's high-profile highlights include a Grand National win on Lord Gyllene and partnerships with top-class greys One Man and Monet's Garden. He is also sixth on the all-time jump jockeys' leaderboard, and one of only 10 men to have ridden more than 1,000 winners. "I first came to England on 10 June 1988, cried my eyes out with homesickness for three days, and went home," he said. "But I came back; I wanted to be a successful jockey. Now I want to make a go of training."
He will start learning his new trade (he and partner Rose Davidson open for business next year) with educational spells with Aidan O'Brien, Jonjo O'Neill and Karl Burke on the agenda.
Hedgehunter, winner of the 2005 National, will spend his retirement in more relaxed surroundings, at the Ballavoddan estate on the Isle of Man of his owner, Trevor Hemmings. "He is a very special horse," said trainer Willie Mullins of the 12-year-old, "and we'll miss him around the place."
Nap: Rabbit Fighter
NB: Optical Illusion
(Wolverhampton 8.20)Reuse content