The remainder of the elite middle-distance season will be enacted in the shadow of what might have been. Yesterday morning came the news that Harbinger, who 15 days ago staked his claim to become one of the all-time greats with his 11-length tour de force in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, suffered a leg injury that is likely to end his career.
The four-year-old, trained by Sir Michael Stoute for Highclere Racing, fractured his near foreleg during a seven-furlong workout on the Limekilns gallops near his Newmarket stable. The colt underwent surgery during the afternoon to repair the damage to the lower end of the cannon bone above the ankle. "The burning question is whether he'll race again," said the Highclere director John Warren. "And I have to say it's a long shot."
The injury, a hair-line condylar fracture, is neither life-threatening nor uncommon and should not jeopardise any future stud career, though the retirement of such an iconic athlete is a blow for not only his connections but also the racing public. "The leg will require two screws," added Warren. "The horse is as comfortable as he can be."
The son of Dansili had won all four of his starts this year and was rated the best horse in the world after his performance at Ascot. He was scheduled to put his new-found status to the test next week in the Juddmonte International, en route to the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in October.
He had been a warm favourite for both; his place at the head of the betting for the York contest has been taken by Rip Van Winkle, and for the Longchamp showpiece by another trained by Aidan O'Brien, Fame And Glory, who starts his countdown to the autumn in the Royal Whip at the Curragh this afternoon.
Another massive, if younger, reputation comes under scrutiny this afternoon at the Co Kildare track, when Strong Suit, judged by Richard Hannon as the best of his gifted two-year-olds, challenges for the first top-level juvenile prize of the season, the Phoenix Stakes. The unbeaten Coventry Stakes winner's task is marginally eased by the defection of one of the best- regarded of the home side, Dunboyne Express, and the Godolphin contender Al Aasifh, but he must still overcome a Ballydoyle quartet headed by Zoffany. O'Brien has captured 12 of the past 14 runnings of the six-furlong contest, sending out the runner-up in the other two.
Yesterday's two-year-old feature at Newmarket, the Sweet Solera Stakes, has not a bad record either in spotlighting talent. Recent winners include Soviet Song and Rainbow View, and last year in fourth place was this season's dual Oaks heroine, Snow Fairy.
This time Godolphin's Dynaformer filly White Moonstone took the step up to Group Two class in her elegant stride, staying on well under Frankie Dettori to beat the more experienced Crying Lightening just over a length.
For the second time in four days Mark Johnston saddled the first three home in a handicap and, even more remarkably, both clean sweeps were led by the same horse, Yorgunnabelucky. The first time was at Hamilton, yesterday's at Ascot on Shergar Cup day, when the novelty international jockeys' event went to the Irish team of Richard Hughes, Fran Berry and Pat Smullen.