The sun may have blazed down from a cloudless azure dome in most parts yesterday, but only after dispersing an early-morning chill that presages a seasonal crossroads. Certainly, horses are beginning to respond to nature's imperatives, as John Gosden has discovered. Britain's Breeders' Cup challenge, already fairly thin numerically, has definitely been reduced by one.
After Rainbow View's authoritative victory in the Fillies' Mile 13 days ago, there was enthusiastic talk of sending her to Santa Anita for one of the juvenile filly contests. But that venture is now a non-starter; the daughter of Dynaformer has started to grow her winter woollies. "She has turned in her coat," said Gosden, "so we've abandoned the idea. It's a shame, because she's in great form. But she's told us there's no point in sending her out to the heat in California. If it was some tough colt it might be different, but not her."
Gosden added that no decision had yet been made about the target for her year-older stablemate Raven's Pass. The colt, who strode to the top of the European miling hierarchy in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, is a general 2-1 favourite for the Mile on turf and around 10-1 for the 10-furlong Classic on dirt.
Shortening days and colder nights means one thing in jumping yards: the sound of clippers, as the participants in the winter game are necessarily divested of their fleeces as their homework intensifies and schedules are inked in.
And one of last season's real stars, Katchit, will be back among his public sooner rather than later. The Champion Hurdle hero, around 6-1 favourite for the double, will make his seasonal debut at Kempton on Sunday week. "The idea is to give him one run before we go back to Cheltenham for the Boylesports International in December," said trainer Alan King yesterday. "He's ready to start, and we'd prefer Kempton, where he just has an 8lb penalty, to a limited handicap at Wincanton."
For the big two chasers from Paul Nicholls' yard, the season will be a game of two halves, with Kauto Star first to trot out of the tunnel and Denman taking over for the second period, before their Gold Cup penalty shoot-out in March.
Kauto Star, nudged off his throne last term, is due to start off in front of a new audience. He will pay his first visit to Northern Ireland at the start of November, for the season's first Grade One prize, the James Nicholson Chase at Down Royal. That will be followed by an attempt at repeats in the Betfair Chase and the King George.
"After that, we'll keep him fresh, and go straight to Cheltenham," said Nicholls. "He looks fantastic, and I think he is as good as ever. He took time to find his form last year but this year Clifford [Baker, the Dicheat yard's head lad] has been astonished by the way he has been working."
Denman's season, put on hold after the discovery that he was suffering from an irregular heartbeat, will start again in earnest next week, when he resumes his progress up his trainer's famously steep training track. But he will not be running until after the turn of the year, with the Aon Chase his first outing.
"When we brought him back in after the summer, he was lethargic, not eating and was slow up the hill. After we discovered his fibrillating heart, that was easily treated. Then he was ill for a week, due to the toxins in the medicine he was having. But he's looking terrific now, and will start cantering next week."
The other of the three Manor Farm musketeers, Gold Cup third Neptune Collonges, will start his campaign in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown. And there may yet be a d'Artagnan in the ranks; Big Buck's will have his mettle tested as he deputises for Denman in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury next month. "I'd like to think he could develop into a fourth Gold Cup candidate," added Nicholls.
Horror accidents, like the fall which snapped Seb Sanders' left femur and will keep the joint-Flat champion out of the saddle until next March, are not confined to the racetrack. Two months ago Joe Tizzard was lucky to escape with his life when he suffered head injuries as he tried to adjust a baling machine while helping with the harvest on a farm. Yesterday at Wincanton, on his fifth ride back after recovering, he was back in the winners' enclosure on Rudivale, trained by his father Colin.
Tizzard Snr said: "Joe only came back yesterday and this is quite emotional for me. He's in really good form and was up at 6am today rolling the gallop. I don't know what is wrong with him!"Reuse content