Perhaps it is something to do with those cases of claret waiting on the podium at Newbury today. The sponsors, after all, are a firm of wine merchants. For one reason or another, anyhow, over the years trainers have carved a special frieze for the Haynes, Hanson and Clark Stakes in the pantheon of Flat racing.
Previous winners include Shergar, Rainbow Quest, Shahrastani, Henbit, Unfuwain and Nayef, while other top-class horses have announced themselves more discreetly. Two years ago, for instance, Authorized began his journey to the Derby by finishing third here on his debut.
Just in front of him, incidentally, was Aqaleem, who would go on to finish third when they met again at Epsom. His trainer, Marcus Tregoning, is obviously fond of claret, having won the race three times and habitually tested his nicer middle-distance prospects here. Tregoning feels that the conditions of the race – confined to horses that have not won before mid-August – protect maturing talents from precocious bullies, and instead enable them to measure themselves against similar, slow-burning types.
The man who rode Authorized here, Eddie Ahern, again partners an interesting prospect today in Palavicini, a Giant's Causeway colt trained by John Dunlop. Palavcini made a remarkable debut at Newmarket last month, hopelessly gawky in the early stages before taking off dramatically and all but running down Delegator – who had himself finished second on his debut to Wingwalker, an impressive winner at Sandown on Wednesday.
"He's a very nice two-year-old," Ahern said yesterday. "He was green first time out, but once he got into his rhythm and hit the rising ground he ran on really well. And it is turning out to have been a really good maiden. I'm sure he will have learnt a lot from the experience, and apparently he has come on a lot for the run." Ahern believes that a young horse's first experiences of the racecourse provide the foundations for much that follows, for good or ill. "Authorized had a nice introduction and went on to win a Group One next time out," he said.
"I remember riding work on one of Peter Chapple-Hyam's best two-year-olds, and telling him how well the horse had gone. I couldn't believe it when he said he had an even better one. 'Yes, I have,' he said. 'And you're riding him at Newbury tomorrow.' That was Authorized."
Ahern's career has since progressed to the point where he can hope not just to ride Classic horses, but to ride them in Classic races, as well. Last Saturday he rode Look Here with his customary cool in the St Leger, settling her off the pace, but in the end she could only plug on for third. "She probably didn't get home in the ground," Ahern said. "She gave me a lovely ride into the race, and going to three out was still on the bridle. But once she came under pressure she couldn't pick her feet out of the ground."
The opposition today includes Full Toss and Aurorian, two of the 56 individual juvenile winners already sent out by Richard Hannon, and Souter Point, from a stable that also houses one of the more exciting British two-year-olds in Cityscape.
It is one of the charms of the Flat season that it seldom whets the appetite more than in its final weeks. So many young horses are now being introduced that all seven races at Newmarket today are confined to juveniles. And somewhere out there is the horse that will win an unprecedented concession next year at Kempton on 18 March.
Yesterday its managers announced that Churchill Downs will grant an automatic starting place in the Kentucky Derby to the winner of a new £80,000 race, the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes, over nine furlongs on the all-weather surface at Kempton. Previous European challengers have had to gain their berth according to stakes earnings, historically placing them at a depressing disadvantage.
With Aidan O'Brien contemplating a Breeders' Cup warm-up at Great Leighs tomorrow week for no less a horse than Duke Of Marmalade, it seems that the all-weather entrepreneurs were not exaggerating the opportunities they always promised for closer alignment with the American sport.
Nap: Absent Pleasure
NB: Los Nadis