This strange, comfortless spring can have stretched before few trainers as bleakly as for Sir Henry Cecil, who must continue his fight against illness without the champion who lent him such succour over the last three years. Already, however, he has nurtured a fresh bloom of hope. The flowering here of Hot Snap was so abrupt – and so spectacular – that it warmed not just Cecil, but every fan of Flat racing, as a first down payment of the summer to come.
Halfway through the Lanwades Stud Nell Gwyn Stakes, Hot Snap was stone last and struggling. It made sense. She was still green, having made only one start on the all-weather last year; as a half-sister to Midday, moreover, she was perfectly entitled to resent this drop back to seven furlongs. The eye was instead drawn to Sky Lantern, full of running as Richard Hughes waited for a gap. As they approached the dip, the favourite swept through to lay down what looked like a persuasive marker for the Qipco 1,000 Guineas.
But what was this? Here was Hot Snap, suddenly hastening through the gears. She came bounding between Sky Lantern and the rail and opened up by just over two lengths, despite betraying her inexperience with a nervous jink as the bare horizon opened before her.
One or two bookmakers were sufficiently drowsy to offer 10-1 for the Guineas, but those odds had generally halved by the time they digested Cecil's prediction of significant improvement over the next 17 days.
"She's not there yet, but she is a big, promising filly," he whispered, his voice weakened not by his latest course of treatment but by an infection. "She only started to come to herself last week, and has only been on the grass once this year. The idea was to give her a bit of time to find her feet. She's coming on, and will be much better in three weeks' time. And she wants a mile."
Though Cecil added that Hot Snap could be a Royal Ascot filly if the Guineas came too soon, her owner's racing manager indicated that she would be given every opportunity to go for a Classic her trainer has already won six times.
This evidence that Cecil's resurgence can outlast Frankel was not the only source of gratification on a card that renewed the good old days of this meeting. Nowadays many trainers prefer to send horses straight to the Guineas – only four colts contest the Novae Insurance Craven Stakes today – and it is certainly a long time since the CSP European Free Handicap could be sensibly exalted as an authentic Classic trial. The last winner to follow up in the 2,000 Guineas was Mystiko, in 1991, albeit Harayir did win the 1,000 after finishing second in 1995. It might prove hasty, however, to dismiss the claims of Garswood after he tanked through the race and then hurtled clear of the race-fit Emell.
It was his first experiment with a seventh furlong and Richard Fahey believes him ready for an eighth in the 2,000 Guineas, where there will be worse 25-1 shots. "That's a big relief," Fahey said. "He's been doing that to all my better horses at home. We've nothing that can go with him. He's the best we've got this season by a long way."
Garswood had managed only one win in four starts at two but Fahey felt him to be merely naïve. "That's why I dropped him to five, just to teach him to race," he said. "He was always going to be a stronger horse this year, and he's now so laid back you could take him out hunting."
The return of racing to the Rowley Mile was further dignified by a visit from André Fabre, who saddled Intello to extend his unbeaten record to three in the EBM-Papst Feilden Stakes. Always moving smoothly, the Galileo colt saw things out strongly by three lengths. Though Fabre indicated that Intello's Classic ambitions might remain closer to home, in the Prix du Jockey-Club, the Investec Derby could yet be on the agenda for Ocovango. He heads for the Prix Greffulhe at Longchamp on 4 May – the same trial Fabre used for Pour Moi, before he won at Epsom two years ago.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Sandy Lane (4.30 Ripon) Miles ahead of the game judged on a runaway success on his first start for David O'Meara last week.
Greatwood (2.55 Newmarket) Capable of much better now that he steps up in trip, and trainer would need a good reason to forfeit a dangerous handicap mark.
One to watch
Kiwi Bay (Michael Dods) Continues to edge down the weights and again had his stamina stretched at Doncaster on Saturday.
Where the money's going
Mars is 8-1 from 14-1 with William Hill for the Qipco 2,000 Guineas.
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