Public preparations for Cheltenham now being more or less complete, it would be churlish to disregard those horses that yesterday confirmed themselves, if not stronger or braver, then certainly a good deal faster than any assembling for the Festival.
A series of trial races for Dubai World Cup night at Meydan featured the reappearance of a Breeders' Cup winner, in Vale Of York, and an Arc third, in Cavalryman. And if both ultimately failed to land a blow, the Godolphin stable none the less enjoyed another big night at its "home" Carnival. One of its three winners, a young colt named Mendip, could become a real star.
Vale Of York, on his first appearance since that rather perplexing success in the Juvenile at Santa Anita, could only keep on steadily for fifth as Mendip hurtled half a dozen lengths clear in the Al-Bastakiya Stakes. Ahmed Ajtebi had ridden Vale Of York at the Breeders' Cup and Frankie Dettori was more than happy once again to leave the colt to his understudy.
Mendip had won both his previous starts, a Kempton maiden and a race earlier in the Carnival, and is now in danger of overtaking Vale Of York as Godolphin's premier candidate for the Kentucky Derby. As a son of Harlan's Holiday, he has every right to prove as effective on dirt, but first he must tackle the UAE Derby on World Cup night.
Godolphin's mediocre record in the Kentucky Derby has invited scepticism whether it can ever be won from Dubai, but that will only goad Sheikh Mohammed into trying to prove otherwise. The stable's most eligible candidates to date missed out through injury, while the success of Desert Party last night – in a sprint, on his first start since a midfield finish at Churchill Downs last year – implied that he was one of those that never had adequate stamina for the task.
Red Desire, the Japanese raider, collared Gloria De Campeao in the Maktoum Challenge and may now be switched from her original target, the Sheema Classic on turf, to the most valuable prize in history – the $10m World Cup itself. Cavalryman, dropped in trip and trying a new surface on his debut for Saeed bin Suroor, briefly threatened before just flattening out behind the placed horses. Red Desire produced remarkable acceleration, but still more striking was that of Luca Cumani's Presvis, who returned to top form back under Ryan Moore later on the card and will now go for the Duty Free Stakes.
Back on the home front, the latest horse to join Mille Chief and Taranis among the Festival scratchings was Mikael d'Haguenet, who won over hurdles at the meeting last year but made his first public appearance of the season only when schooling over fences at Leopardstown last Sunday. Willie Mullins, his trainer, says that the horse has been "stiff and sore" since and will not now risk a daring comeback at the Festival.
Philip Hobbs, whose big hope is Menorah, had a boost when two of his other novices won in good style at Taunton. Voramar Two, who had won a strong race over the track last month, is likely to go to Aintree after following up at 1-6, while Duke Of Lucca had too much pace for Pistolet Noir, beaten for the second time since his expensive transfer to the champion trainer. But Paul Nicholls would doubtless settle for that disappointment in his relief that Ruby Walsh, his stable jockey, managed to walk away from a horrifying fall in the novice chase, when his mount jumped straight through the wing.
Turf account: Chris McGrath
Sheriff Hutton (4.55 Doncaster) Not seen since disappointing at Kempton on Boxing Day but previously beaten only narrowly at Kelso on his return from a lay-off, and remains fairly treated in these early stages of his chasing career.
Sound Stage (3.55 Newbury) Up 5lb for a good second at Ffos Las last time, but that looks strong form for the grade.
One to watch
What's Occurrin (T D Walford) Has begun to show signs of life at a modest level and only faded into fourth at Catterick the other day after setting an excessive pace over a new trip.
Where the money's going
Sanctuaire, a French import who made an impressive start for Paul Nicholls at Taunton last month, is 9-1 from 12-1 with William Hill for the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham.Reuse content