This is one of the best weeks to be in the Suffolk town that would be a distinctly one-horse place if it wasn't home to some 3,000 of the beasts. Three days of high-class racing on the entirely charming summer course, hard by the massive sixth-century earthwork that is the Devil's Dyke, are interlaced with six sessions of cosmopolitan trading in the elegant domed arena of Europe's premier equine auction house, a bustling reminder of the industry behind the sport.
There are hot, coveted tickets, including to the splendid parade of stallions staged tomorrow and Friday at Dalham Hall, Sheikh Mohammed's palatial flagship stud, where stars such as King's Best, Cape Cross and Dubawi will strut their stuff. But one of the longest-established rituals here is enacted daily, and is open to all. Horses have been taking morning exercise on the training gallops for 300 years and yesterday was no exception.
Among those hardening sinew in the early sunshine were two of the season's most talented colts – Workforce, winner of the Derby, and Harbinger, a winner at Royal Ascot, strode out in tandem up the steep, lung-expanding incline of Long Hill. The pair are Sir Michael Stoute stablemates but carry different colours (the former those of Khaled Abdullah and the latter of Highclere Thoroughbreds) and, although yesterday's spin was strictly non-competitive, it will be a different matter when they square up in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot later this month.
The question of who will prove the better, the spectacular Classic hero or the improving, more battle-hardened four-year-old, is good-naturedly dividing staff at Freemason Lodge, with camps based on the prosaic respective nicknames of the celebrity thoroughbreds. "You're either for Sefton or for Bing," said Harbinger's workrider, Marie Doe. The stable jockey, Ryan Moore, has made clear his preference for Sefton; he will ride Workforce.
Both owners will have the chance this afternoon to add to an already glittering season, though on this occasion not in opposition. Abdullah, one of the world's most successful large-scale owner-breeders, fields the three-year-old Special Duty in the Falmouth Stakes and Highclere, a company which runs Europe's leading syndicates, has the two-year-old Memory in the Cherry Hinton Stakes.
Special Duty has already won the English and French 1,000 Guineas though, uniquely, she gained both in the stewards' room after finishing second. She travels from Chantilly today to try to set her Group One record straight but may not cope with her contemporary Lillie Langtry (3.10). The Ballydoyle representative was late to reappear this term because of injury but, in a hitherto shuffling pack, she seemed to emerge as the ace among her age and sex over a mile in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Today's feature is the season's first inter-generation clash over a mile for fillies and mares, and the chief threat to the Irish raider may come from the locally-trained five-year-old Spacious, who finished a length behind the mighty Goldikova when third in this contest 12 months ago.
At this time of year, focus starts to sharpen on the youngest generation and this week's meeting is where such interest, not initially part of the Turf's fabric, started. Tomorrow's July Stakes is the oldest two-year-old race in the calendar, first run in 1786, six years after the inaugural Derby. It was also once the most significant, but nowadays deals more in colts of classy precocity rather than of Classic potential.
Its distaff equivalent, though, is a different matter. Those lucky enough today to enjoy what must be the sport's most delightful pre-parade ring, in dappled shade beneath a calming cathedral canopy of trees, will do worse than pay close attention to the fillies competing for the Cherry Hinton Stakes. Over the seasons, the Group Two contest has had a distinguished list of alumnae, including Nahoodh, Nannina, Spinning Queen, Attraction, Sayyedati, Harayir, Diminuendo, Forest Flower, Mrs Penny, Mysterious and Pia.
Four of today's field of seven ran at Royal Ascot, none with more credit than Memory (2.35), who showed speed and considerable determination to recover from a slow start for a narrow but decisive success in the Albany Stakes, becoming in the process the middle leg of a Highclere treble at the meeting, instigated by tomorrow's July Stakes contender Approve and completed by Harbinger.
Memory, a daughter of Danehill Dancer, has progressed since last month's success, according to Highclere's manager, Harry Herbert, though her style of racing does not make easy viewing for her 20 co-owners. "She tends to look around her when the stalls open before realising she has to race," he said, "and that habit may catch up with her. But once she starts running, it's spooky how quickly she makes up ground."
Sue Nontgomery's Nap
Miss Zooter (1.30 Newmarket) Found Listed company at Royal Ascot too hot to handle but today's drop in class and distance should suit her.
Valencha (3.30 Lingfield) A half-sister to smart sprinter Sohraab. Her belated first outing in May was full of promise and she can add to her family's laurels sooner rather than later.
One to watch
Freckenham (M L W Bell) Failed at Brighton earlier this month but should thrive on a more conventional track.
Where the money's going
Genki is Totesport's new favourite, at 8-1, for the Stewards' Cup at Goodwood in the wake of confirmation that Laddies Poker Two will miss the race.
Chris McGrath's Nap
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