Rather than Verona, perhaps "the uncertain glory of an April day" should have been recognised by Two Gentlemen of Newmarket. The tentative rehearsals staged at this meeting have always sent punters scurrying between sunny optimism and squalls of disappointment. And it is harder than ever to be adamant about what you witness here, now that so many trainers send horses straight to the Guineas. But neither events yesterday, nor prospects today, permit the slightest ambiguity about the central character in what remains a defining prologue to the weeks ahead.
Having won the final Classic of last season, John Gosden now finds himself with the leading British candidates for the first two of the new one. After looking pretty well named in her trial here yesterday, Infallible made the short journey back into town as Coral's 3-1 favourite for the Stan James 1,000 Guineas. And this afternoon Gosden brings Raven's Pass up the same road as the colt to beat in the Bansha House Stables Craven Stakes, his dry run for the 2,000 Guineas.
Whether measured in feet and inches or cerebration, Gosden is one of the commanding figures of the British Turf. In all he won four races yesterday, laying down his marker in the opener with an unraced colt named Pampas Cat. Gosden thinks enough of him to be thinking of the Chester Vase, but noted that "he'd be as fit as any we're running – 95 per cent, as opposed to 80 per cent for most of the rest".
And he left no doubt that Raven's Pass falls squarely in the latter category. "He needs a race to settle him down," Gosden said. "In fact he needs a race to settle the trainer down. He is just a little too fresh and well, a little ebullient. It's not his D-Day. That's not to say he'll be pussy-footing around, he's there to do his best, but he hasn't been trained for tomorrow's race."
Last September Raven's Pass produced an eye-watering performance in the Solario Stakes at Sandown, beating City Leader by seven lengths. The runner-up came out and won the Royal Lodge Stakes next time, while Raven's Pass himself travelled with intimidating ease before just flattening into third behind New Approach in the Dewhurst Stakes here in the autumn.
It is thought that the softish ground might just have blunted his speed that day, but it does remain conceivable that an eighth furlong will have the same effect today – especially if, as Gosden warns, he proves somewhat edgy and energetic on his reappearance.
Stamina is hardly an issue for Twice Over, who won over 10 furlongs here last autumn. His galloping companion, Kandahar Run, was beaten here yesterday by Campanologist – one wag hazarded that the winner had to be "a ringer" – but it remains impossible to know the limits of Twice Over's potential.
Those who have backed him for the Vodafone Derby might almost prefer to see him just fail for speed in a race like this. If the prize does happen to fall between two stools, then River Proud, for whom this might well prove D-Day, could take advantage.
Sometimes, of course, it is best just to keep it simple. After only surfacing at the final meeting here last season, Infallible might well have been deemed too inexperienced to win the Leslie Harrison Nell Gwyn Stakes after missing the break. But her raw ability is such that she passed every other filly in the race without feeling the whip, the only reservations being their general lack of distinction and her rather naïve drift towards the far rail.
"But then she's still quite babyish," Gosden observed. "She just got left today and was looking and learning. She's not very experienced to be going for the Guineas, and she'll have to be damned good to take on that French filly [Natagora]. But she's a fine, strong filly and will come on for this."
Either way, Infallible reinforces the future prospects of that heroic bastion of British breeding, Cheveley Park Stud, already formidably represented in the 1,000 Guineas by Spacious. Infallible is their latest home-bred star by Pivotal, but by no means their last, judging from the taking success of Virtual in the Alex Scott Maiden. "He has strengthened over the winter and another furlong will definitely suit," Gosden said. "We'll take our time, but he's in the [2,000] Guineas."
The desperate margin of Stimulation's success in the European Free Handicap, a trial of only sporadic relevance in recent years, suggests that he will feature only as an outsider in that race – albeit he will merit respect as Hughie Morrison's first Classic runner. Last season the same trainer won the handicap at the end of the card with no less a sprinter than Sakhee's Secret, but this time proceedings were book-ended by Gosden with Prohibit. This was one of those days when Jimmy Fortune, his stable jockey, looked as good as any in the business, but both men are too experienced to get carried away. "Enjoy it while it lasts," Gosden counselled, but perhaps as many as four swallows might yet make a summer.
1,000 GUINEAS (4 May) Coral: 3-1 (from 14-1) Infallible, 4-1 Natagora, 6-1 Muthabara, 7-1 Spacious, 10-1 Savethisdanceforme, Kitty Matcham, 12-1 Laureldean Gale, Nahoodh, Cape Amber, 16-1 Lush Lashes, Visit, 25-1 Chinese White, Elletelle, Halfway To Heaven, Mad About You, Saoirse Abu, Screen Star.Reuse content