Trainers always emphasise the exasperations of their calling, but to stand with Brian Meehan on the Manton gallops yesterday was to know why they should all be endured. The Wiltshire downs billowed away to horizons softened by the most immaculate morning of the spring so far; somewhere above, a skylark sang its own intoxication in a milky blue sky; underfoot, the fragrant turf was swathed in silver dew. And, finally, the crowning glory – the horses themselves.
Here came Crowded House, a glistening, leonine slab of chestnut muscle, favourite for the Derby, no less. He cantered past, suffused with vitality. Meehan lit a cigarette. Not so much to alleviate tension, seemingly, as to complete the moment. Next to rumble up the hill was Delegator, whose performance in the Craven Stakes at Newmarket last week made him the most eligible colt in Britain for the Stan James 2,000 Guineas, now just 11 days away. For now, at any rate, Meehan's seemed the best of all possible worlds.
Even Eden had its serpents, of course, and he turned round to face a small posse holding notepads and microphones. But even this had to be a good sign, evidence that Meehan, in his fourth season here, is producing horses commensurate with the scale and history of this sumptuous estate.
The Irishman does not seem abashed by his situation. In fact, his confidence in both his star colts verges on the reckless. "I was just glad to get the Craven out of the way, really," he said. "You can get beat in the Guineas, and still turn out a champion, but to be beaten in your trial would be hard to swallow. Saying that, I don't expect him to get beat in the Guineas, either. They didn't go that quick in the Craven. When he gets a stronger pace, you'll see the best of him. It'll be lovely to see him stretch."
He is no less intrepid in his hopes for Crowded House, who undergoes his own Classic rehearsal in the Totesport Dante Stakes at York next month. "I know I can't stand here and say they're both going to win Classics," Meehan said. "But they should both win Group One races this year, and maybe they'll win two, or three. I don't want to tempt fate. I'm just very confident. We've had some cracking horses, over the years. And I've spoken the same way before. Maybe people just weren't listening."
The name of Delegator certainly reached a lot of ears after his final gallop before the Craven, and he matched that billing in the race. "I know you can knock the form, but we weren't looking for him to tell us anything," Meehan said. "Wherever he was going to run, we knew he'd win. The main objective was to get him back down the hill, because he still lacked experience. I'd been very confident before the Dewhurst as well [last autumn] but had hoped to give him another run beforehand. Only he gave a cough, had a slightly dirty scope, so had to go straight to the Dewhurst, and Jame [Spencer] came back and said the horse had just run out of ideas on the hill."
Crowded House was under consideration for the Guineas but Epsom is his priority, as a son of Rainbow Quest, and Meehan considers York a more appropriate route – not least because of the later resumption. "We'd like to see him end up in the Breeders' Cup Classic, so it could be a hell of a long year," he explained. "He goes well on top of the ground, so we're going to be looking at midsummer prizes, too. His second dam is a half-sister to Storm Cat, so there's a lot of natural speed there, but he'll settle and I can't see the distance being a problem at Epsom."
Meehan also has a candidate for the Stan James 1,000 Guineas in Super Sleuth, caught close home on her reappearance at Newbury last Saturday. "She was a week off being ready and got tired," he said. "But Frankie Dettori was very complimentary afterwards, and she's an improving sort who'll be suited by the extra furlong."
The first Classic winner trained here was Gang Forward, who won the 2,000 Guineas for Alec Taylor in 1873. Meehan's first would be Manton's 42nd, but he acknowledges no pressure. "Don't get me wrong, it makes a difference going out every morning when you're training the Guineas and Derby favourites," he said. "And we've the ideal place to train them. But you can only do your best; they can only do theirs."