Catching pigeons at home is one thing, going past rivals on the racecourse quite another. The leading 1,000 Guineas fancy Muthabara upheld her behind-the-scenes reputation hereyesterday with victory in the Dubai Duty Free Stakes. But half-an-hour later another set of expectations disappeared in the Berkshire gloom as the much-hyped 2,000 Guineas contender Confront failed to make the frame in his Classic trial, the Greenham Stakes.
Muthabara's race was muddling and she won despite the course she took along the straight seven furlongs. Early on, as the pack went down the centre, Richard Hills kept her in a group of three on the stands' side. Two furlongs out, well adrift of the leaders and apparently under pressure, her cause looked hopeless.
But, in an instant, came transformation. She veered left-handed, joined the herd, and once among rivals it seemed she remembered what to do. She engaged her turbo boost and ran past Dream Day for a length-and-a-quarter victory that was, in the end, comfortable.
Muthabara, who had not run since July, was one of the least experienced in yesterday's field, and, with her winter coat trace-clipped, looked one of the least forward in condition. "She hadn't run for a long time, and she felt ring-rusty," said Hills, "but once I got her racing, she really went whoosh. She will most certainly improve for that."
The 1,000 Guineas is something of a specialist subject for her owner, Sheikh Hamdan, who already has won four, with Salsabil, Shadayid, Harayir and Lahan. Muthabara's performance was not spectacular enough for her to be promoted to clear favouritism for the Rowley Mile showpiece two weeks today, but was certainly good enough for her to maintain her position and one of the co-favourites, with the week's other two trials winners Infallible and Natagora.
Her trainer, John Dunlop, who started his Guineas sequence with Quick As Lightning and added Salsabil and Shadayid, was better pleased with the daughter of Red Ransom than her rider. "It wasn't particularlysmooth for her," he said, "going from one side to the other like that. Two furlongs out I was getting quite concerned, but it all worked out in the end."
Dunlop, too, anticipates progress from Muthabara. "This race was as much about match practice as anything, and the experience will have done her the world of good. She was doing her best work in the final furlong and the step up to a mile in the Guineas will suit her well. She is certainly a very nice filly. But whether she is a very good one, we'll just have to see."
The eclipse of the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Confront, who started a warm favourite for the colts' equivalent race but finished a well-beaten fifth, has increased the likelihood of Twice Over running for their owner, Khaled Abdullah, in the 2,000 Guineas in 13 days' time. The Greenham Stakes winner, the race-fit Paco Boy, is not entered at Newmarket, but may be supplementedafter he and Richard Hughes cut down the front-running Bobs Surprise close home, on ground considered far softer than ideal.
"We've got the money now," said trainer Richard Hannon, "so we'll have a think about it. The horse has done hardly anything wrong and Richard thinks he'll stay a mile no problem."
At Ayr, the 66-1 outsider Iris De Balme produced an extraordinary performance to take the day's richest contest, the Scottish Grand National. The eight-year-old had won for the first time at the 32nd attempt in February and was 26lb wrong in the weights yesterday. But as the field came into the straight for the final time in the four-mile marathon it was as if the eight-year-old had just joined in, so strongly was he galloping. He and the 7lb claimer CharlieHuxley streaked clear of the top-weight, Halcon Genelardais, to win by 14 lengths.
Iris De Balme may turn out again on Saturday at Sandown in the Bet365 Gold Cup. "He'll be out of the handicap again," said surprised trainer Sean Curran, who still holds his jockeys' licence and will be riding at Plumpton tomorrow. "I didn't think he'd win like this today, so we may as well have another go."
Eight horses have the chance of making history shortly after 2.10 in Essex today. One will be the winner of the opening race at Great Leighs, the first new racecourse in Britain since Taunton in 1927.