This is the time of year, as the late, much-lamented Humph might have said, when racing trots out of the half-time tunnel of destiny having been transformed from the first XI of commercial truth into the gilded youth squad of hopes and dreams. For the older generations, much of the pecking order is in the formbook by now and focus can start to sharpen on two-year-olds.
The Newmarket meeting that opens today is actually where such interest, not initially part of the Turf's fabric, started. Tomorrow's July Stakes is the oldest two-year-old race in the calendar, first run in 1786, six years after the inaugural Derby. It was also once the most significant, but nowadays deals more in colts of classy precocity rather than of Classic potential.
Its distaff equivalent, though, is a different matter. Those lucky enough today to enjoy what must be the sport's most delightful pre-parade ring, in dappled shade beneath a calming cathedral-canopy of trees, will do worse than pay close attention to the fillies competing for the Cherry Hinton Stakes. Over the seasons, the Group Two contest has had a distinguished list of alumni, including Nahoodh, Nannina, Spinning Queen, Attraction, Sayyedati, Harayir, Diminuendo, Forest Flower, Mrs Penny, Mysterious and Pia.
Today's field of 10 looks well capable of containing a future star. Six of the contenders ran with credit at Royal Ascot, none more so than Habaayib, who produced an authoritative performance to defeat well-touted Ballydoyle representative Lillie Langtry and 20 others in the Albany Stakes.
Statistics, as well as visual evidence, say that the daughter of Royal Applause, trained locally by Ed Dunlop, should prevail again, for four times in the past five runnings has the Cherry Hinton winner used the Ascot race as a stepping stone. The one niggle in Dunlop's mind is a possible lack of pace. The Albany Stakes, over today's six furlongs, was a strongly-run affair and Habaayib was able to settle and travel before picking her opponents off.
The other fillies coming on from Ascot – the Queen Mary Stakes second, third, fourth and eighth Misheer, Ceedwell, Capercaillie and Crown, plus Windsor Castle Stakes fourth Little Scotland – are all stepping up from the minimum trip for the first time.
But Habaayib (2.35) is a young athlete whose potential seems hardly tapped and she appeals as being, simply, better than her rivals, however the race is run. "You can't fault the way she won at Ascot," said Dunlop, "but she was hard to assess beforehand because she only ever does enough, and no more, on the gallops. She'll go ahead of her lead horse, but pricks her ears and doesn't go flamboyantly clear."
She sprang a 16-1 surprise at Ascot, but will be a warm order today. Capercaillie may prove the chief threat but those wishing to invest small money at a big price should consider Little Scotland, who has done well against colts and will appreciate the extra furlong.
Today's seven-furlong juvenile maiden also has a rich history. Fourteen years ago Alhaarth beat Mark Of Esteem, and though there has not been a renewal of such gravitas since, talented runners such as Rio De La Plata, Dubai Destination, Arkadian Hero, Rainbow High, Kandidate and Victory Note have emerged. Of those with form, Liquid Asset sets the standard but a chance is taken that Erfaan (3.45) will have learned from his debut.
Today's Group One feature is the Falmouth Stakes, the first inter-generation clash over a mile for fillies and mares, though the occasion is markedly diminished by the absence of the best three-year-old in the division, Ghanaati.
The banner for her age-group has been picked up by Rainbow View (3.10), who was behind her, but entirely undisgraced, in both the 1,000 Guineas and Coronation Stakes. Last year's juvenile champion can get her season back on track at the expense of French raider Goldikova, yet to prove she retains her outstanding three-year-old talent.
Turf account: Sue Montgomery
Snow Bay (2.55 Catterick) On his first run for 11 months and his first in a handicap, came from off the pace into fourth in a better-class race than today's. Should be sharper physically and more settled mentally this time
Sand Vixen (6.50 Kempton) Well-bred and from a yard going well, looked babyish on her debut but with experience can open her account.
One to watch
Seven-year-old hurdler Shiwawa defied a double penalty to bring up a hat-trick at Ayr on Sunday.
Where the money's going
Oaks winner Sariska is 11-10 with Ladbrokes for Sunday's Irish equivalent, with her Epsom runner-up Midday at 9-4.
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