Sometimes collective will is just not enough to get a horse first past the post. With the 2,000 Guineas favourite Frankel already tucked safely away for the winter at Warren Place, it was widely expected that his stablemate, Picture Editor, would extend this season's Henry Cecil fairytale by making the journey back up the hill from his local track yesterday as market leader for the Derby. Unfortunately for the trainer's followers, the punters who backed him to 4-6 and any authors named Grimm, the colt was made to look ordinary as he finished third in the Zetland Stakes behind two rivals with few lofty pretensions.
The winner of the 10-furlong contest, the Brian Meehan-trained Indigo Way, and the short-head runner-up, Measuring Time, drew more than three lengths clear of Picture Editor. Cecil gave his charge the benefit of the doubt – "He is still babyish and will be all right next year," he said – but the dream surrounding the son of Dansili, in the same Khalid Abdullah ownership as Frankel, is at least on hold.
And bookmakers have lost the faith; Picture Editor was pushed from second spot behind last weekend's Racing Post Trophy winner, Casamento, in the Epsom market to as much as 25-1. But another piece of the Classic jigsaw may be turned face up on the table this afternoon in France, when Roderic O'Connor, runner-up to Frankel in the Dewhurst Stakes, bids to take Aidan O'Brien's Group One haul to 14for the year in the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud.
Yesterday's domestic fare had both a farewell and hail feel to it. In the other juvenile contests before racegoers saw the pale autumn sun limning the Devil's Dyke for the last time this year, there may have been stars of the future yet to twinkle. In one typical back-end maiden, for instance, full of blue-blooded types starting to learn their job, the Derby winner North Light's young half-sisterRien Ne Vas Plus made a highly satisfactory first appearance in sixth place. The debut for Spectacle, whose big bro Workforce won at Epsom this year, was less auspicious, though, as she finished nearer last than first.
Around the jumping tracks established celebrities are starting to step into the spotlight; next Saturday one at the top of the A-list, Kauto Star, will warm up at Down Royal for the King George VI Chase, and yesterday at Wetherby the dashing grey Nacarat presented his own credentials for the festive showpiece with a decisive victory in the Charlie Hall Chase.
Already proven over three miles round Kempton, having won the Racing Post Chase in February last year, yesterday's was his first success since, but trainer Tom George is sure he now has the nine-year-old to his best. "He'd had a few problems and all the hard work by our vets and all at the yard has paid off," he said. "He's going to improve for this race and the King George is high on his agenda."
Though Nacarat is normally a flamboyant front-runner, yesterday Sam Thomas sat behind another of that ilk, Ollie Magern, before taking the initiative at the head of the home straight. The only blip came three out when his mount bunny-hopped the obstacle, but the mistake hardly haltedhis momentum as he powered four lengths clear of 9-4 favourite The Tother One. Last year's winner Deep Purple finished fast to deprive the gallant Ollie Magern, who took the Grade Two race in 2005 and 2007, of third. Nacarat is now as short as 10-1 in some King George lists.
"I took it up way early enough," said Thomas afterwards, "but he was going so well. He feels a different horse this season and there will be plenty more to come."
Another horse to show the benefits of a summer's mental and physical rehabilitation at the expense of a Paul Nicholls inmate was Massini's Maguire, who denied Take The Breeze after a stirring battle over the last two fences in the feature handicap at Ascot.
A fast, foot-perfect leap at the last under Tom Scudamore sealed victoryfor the nine-year-old, who was havinghis first run for David Pipe after being transferred from Philip Hobbs, and provided his owner, Alan Peterson, with an across-the-card double after Fair Along – still with Hobbs – took the Grade Two hurdle at Wetherby.