In the half light of a foggy dawn here yesterday, customers at the Clockers' Corner kitchen seemed decidedly unnerved by the automated Halloween manikins snarling around the serving hatch. But it was a blithe spirit who haunted the scene most convincingly, as Freddy Head returned to the scene of two of Goldikova's three Breeders' Cup Mile wins with another filly, Moonlight Cloud – and, seemingly, fairly similar expectations.
Moonlight Cloud must reverse the form of their meeting at Deauville in August with Excelebration, the hottest favourite of the entire European raiding party. But her trainer seems confident she can do so, having been hampered before finishing best that day. Either side of that defeat, she has won Group One prizes over six and a half furlongs, and then a mile.
"It's very hard to compare her with Goldikova, and not fair," Head said. "You can only get one Goldikova. But this filly is very good – very good. She could be that same class. She was very unlucky against Excele-bration. I think we should have won. I think the course will favour us, and we are the ones to beat."
A fascinating tactical race beckons, with a local tearaway in Obviously setting the riders of Moonlight Cloud, Excelebration and Wise Dan a test of nerve. "I think it will suit her," Head said. "She's an easy filly to settle. The faster they go, the better."
Aidan O'Brien, supervising another elite squad this year, admitted that just two weeks gives Excelebration limited time to absorb his dazzling effort at Ascot in The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. But the Ballydoyle trainer's greatest concern was Starspangledbanner, who tackles the Turf Sprint after a failed stint at stud. "Since he arrived, all four of his legs have been a bit 'humid', because he didn't do much walking," O'Brien said. "But we're treating it and hope it disappears quickly."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Norfolk Sky (5.40 Kempton) Has built up a solid profile in handicaps and will surely take plenty of beating now she drops to a seller.
Aragorn Rouge (6.10 Kempton) Has plunged down the weights and showed a lot more when heavily backed last time.
Where the money's going
Moonlight Cloud is 9-2 from 5-1 with Coral for the Breeders' Cup Mile on Saturday.