The Turf grows in many different hues. Within barely a couple of hours, punters yesterday had their attention wrested from the soggy pastures of Clonmel, Co Tipperary, to the spangling new racecourse at Meydan, which seemed no less than a desert mirage in contrast. Remote as they were, both environments renewed a familiar tale from the home front.
At Clonmel, Jimmy Mangan saddled Whinstone Boy to confirm himself a genuine contender for the John Smith's Grand National. Mangan's name meant little in Ireland, and nothing beyond, before he won the 2003 running with Monty's Pass. The resources of his Co Cork stable have remained pretty modest, in the meantime, so the fact that he now has another legitimate shot at the great race only corroborates the acuity behind the famous gamble landed by Monty's Pass that day.
Whinstone Boy was himself heavily backed when winning the Thyestes Chase at Thurles only a couple of weeks ago. That was just his fifth start over fences, but he is really blossoming now and yesterday he coped imperturbably with a drop in distance, to two and a half miles, in a small field. Always racing with gusto in the lead, he stayed on strongly to beat Leanne by two and a half lengths. Glencove Marina, the favourite, was held in fourth when falling at the last. With the Aintree handicap due to be published on Tuesday week, Mangan has now shown enough of his hand to be optimistic that Whinstone Boy will end up with a racing weight. Previously, with a marginal rating, he might well have missed the cut.
"Liverpool is the plan and that win won't do any harm," said Mangan, who retains the unassuming air that distinguished his colourful achievement with Monty's Pass. "It was mighty, really. Stamina is his plus, and I'll be doing a rain dance in Liverpool. He'll also get an entry for the Irish National – but if the ground was fast he wouldn't run in either."
Even with that caveat in mind, bookmakers could hardly be accused of parsimony in offering quotes of 33-1 against Whinstone Boy. The one obvious reservation remains, however, that the horse is very short of experience over fences.
Over in Dubai, another forgotten face restored himself to attention when Crowded House finished second in the first race ever staged on the turf track at Meydan. Though Alexandros had sewn up the Al Rashidiya Stakes at his leisure, it was heartening to see Crowded House pass the rest of the field after being dropped out and failing to settle early.
This was the flashy colt whose dazzling success in the Racing Post Trophy had qualified him as the outstanding juvenile of 2008, but whose career as a three-year-old serves as an uncomfortable rebuke to those of us already saluting St Nicholas Abbey as a Classic winner in waiting. He scoped poorly after a lifeless comeback in the Dante last May, contrived a respectable midfield finish in the Derby, and then disappeared until last night. Brian Meehan, his trainer, was suitably pleased by his purposeful finish, suggesting that he would have been ill-served by the steady early pace.
In quickening away to win by three lengths, Alexandros looked a rather more dynamic beast than previously in a career that has so far confined him to the margins of the elite. The Godolphin stable, which had two other winners on the card, has obviously begun its local carnival in formidable fettle.
Frankie Dettori dignified this landmark success, on the new grass track, with a flying dismount. "This horse runs well in Dubai, and also goes really well fresh," he said. "Nine furlongs fits him like a glove. I was a bit scared, because this fellow likes a bit of cut, and the track walked pretty firm. But it rides very differently, it's fabulous."
Frozen Fire, the former Irish Derby winner discarded by Ballydoyle after seeming to lose interest last season, meanwhile offered little sign of renewed enthusiasm on his debut for Mike de Kock, labouring into midfield. But the South African trainer none the less enhanced his amazing record in Dubai with another double, through Musir and Mr Brock.
Turf account: Chris McGrath
Super Baby (2.10 Catterick)
Improved in cheekpieces last winter and looked capable of further progress when shaping nicely on his reappearance. Hasn't really built on that in two runs since, but excuses on both occasions and has been freshened up in the meantime.
Hayes Princess (3.35 Bangor)
From stable back among the winners after a lean spell, this mare remains unexposed after scoring nicely on her hurdling debut at Towcester in the autumn. Disappointing on her next start, but entitled to considerable improvement over extra half-mile.
One to watch
Victors Serenade (A J Honeyball) made a promising start at Windsor on Monday, staying on strongly for fifth after being taken off his feet early.
*Where the money's going
Tidal Bay is 9-1 from 10-1 with the sponsors to crown his rehabilitation over timber in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at Cheltenham next month.