Head-Maarek cultivates hope of fifth Guineas in Helleborine

She will slip under most radars, on the first day of Aintree, but the fact is that Helleborine's discreet reappearance in Paris today represents the most significant moment to date in the nascent Flat season. This filly is quoted around 8-1 to give Criquette Head-Maarek a fifth success in the Qipco 1,000 Guineas, and her trial in the Prix Imprudence at Maisons-Laffitte takes her trainer to very familiar territory.

Fillies trained by Head-Maarek have won this prize no fewer than 10 times, though it will be noted that two who failed to win, Hatoof and Special Duty, proceeded to win at Newmarket. Having won her first three starts, Helleborine was narrowly thwarted by Misty For Me in the Prix Marcel Boussac on Arc day, briefly showing the sort of acceleration that might prove more productive in faster conditions.

Those whose focus remains on Merseyside can excise one of the more interesting outsiders from their John Smith's Grand National calculations. Our Monty is out of the race with an infection. That guarantees Royal Rosa a run, with connections of Skippers Brig and Golden Kite hoping for further withdrawals before declarations are made this morning.

Skippers Brig beat one of the favourites, Ballabriggs, at Kelso last time and Nicky Richards notes that his charge would be 8lb better off here. "Nobody seems to have looked at the weights, nobody is talking about him, but that suits me," the Greystoke trainer said. "He's in fantastic shape, has just come lovely in his coat, and I'm very happy. Dominic [Elsworth] came on Monday and schooled him over a couple of National fences, and he loved them. He seems to tick all the boxes, but you never know if they'll stay. Not many would have had the class to be third in a Boylesports Gold Cup."

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