Cheltenham and Plumpton may both be left-handed but that is where the similarity ends. Oaks, though, have to start somewhere and, after a veritable forest of talent spread its branches over some valuable prizes in the sport's flagship arena over the weekend, several acorns may just have taken root at yesterday's bread-and-butter meeting at the little East Sussex track, a tight, tricky rectangle just nine furlongs around.
Warren Greatrex, for instance, will have reason to remember this particular damp, chilly afternoon and the Artemis Fund Manager Hindu Kush National Hunt Novices Hurdle in particular. By winning the verbosely named contest, Quartano gave the rookie Lambourn-based trainer his first victory.
The six-year-old was Greatrex's 22nd runner since he replaced Carl Llewellyn (now happily ensconced as Nigel Twiston-Davies' right-hand man) as the licence holder at Malcolm Denmark's Weathercock House Stables four months ago. Assistant trainer to Oliver Sherwood before he took on a string of 50, Greatrex had sent out eight placed horses before Quartano struck. "We'd been hitting the bar since our first runner last month," he said, "and it's great to finally get one in. This horse has a bit of class and I think the step up in trip was a help."
Greatrex started in racing as a jockey but admits that his style was somewhat agricultural, perhaps fittingly for the son of a Dartmoor farmer. "I just wasn't very good," he said. If it is any comfort to him, Paul Nicholls, whose father was in law enforcement, always said he rode like a policeman in his days in the saddle, and he has not done too badly in his subsequent career.
Two well-regarded horses to take successful first steps in a new discipline were the Alan King stablemates Bensalem and The Betchworth Kid. Both started odds-on but the former, one of last term's better young hurdlers, made his supporters sweat rather more for their money than the latter, a smart middle-distance stayer on the Flat.
Bensalem, ridden positively by Robert Thornton, jumped well on his first try over fences but had only half a length to spare over Chariot Charger, who blundered at the last obstacle. "I was worried about a lack of pace round a sharp track like this," King said, "so we had him handy. But a more galloping track and being dropped out will suit him far better. This was a very satisfactory start, though."
The best news to emerge yesterday after the weekend's skirmishes was that the gallant Well Chief appears none the worse after lowering reigning two-mile champion Master Minded's colours in the Connaught Chase at Cheltenham. The 10-year-old, who was having only his second start in two and a half years, sustained a nick on one of his fragile forelimbs during the race, but was sound the morning after.
"The vets at the course did a good job looking after the cut," said his trainer, David Pipe, yesterday, "and he ate up last night and, touch wood, seems fine." The glass-legged chestnut has next month's Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown lightly pencilled in as his next assignment.
Master Minded's stablemate Kauto Star was confirmed a definite runner yesterday by Nicholls for Saturday's Betfair Chase at Haydock, one of 13 declared for the first Grade One showdown of the domestic season. Though a short-priced favourite, the dual Gold Cup winner is weak in the market and Pipe is among those not averse to the prospect of another session of giant-killing, this time with Madison Du Berlais.
The progressive eight-year-old took the Hennessy Gold Cup last year but is likely to swerve another tilt at the valuable Newbury handicap. "We're leaning towards Haydock," Pipe said. "It's a top-class race and Kauto Star is the one to beat, but ours is in great form and will love the conditions."
The prospect of testing ground at the Merseyside track is likely to tempt the classy Irish mudlark Notre Pere, who slipped and fell at Down Royal earlier this month, to the fray. "He'll school in the morning and we need to get him running after that blip," said his trainer, Jim Dreaper, yesterday.
The legendary American trainer Bobby Frankel, who had been suffering from leukaemia, has died at the age of 68. The five-times US champion sent out six Breeders' Cup winners.
Turf account: Sue Montgomery
Nap Solicitor (1.20 Southwell)
Pleasing debut when fourth, clear of the rest, against better-fancied types at Yarmouth last month and should put that experience to good use.
*Next Best Pinerock (1.10 Folkestone)
Half-brother to prolific winner Torduff Express who hurt himself first time out and has not looked straightforward in two bumpers since. But hurdles may concentrate his mind and soft ground should suit.
*One To Watch Hi Dancer (P C Haslam) has been slipping down the ratings and is now on a very manageable mark, particularly if stepping down from three miles.
*Where The Money's Going
Barbers Shop, likely to skip Saturday's Betfair Chase in favour of the Hennessy Gold Cup a week later, was cut from 16-1 to 12-1 by SkyBet for the Newbury feature.
*Chris McGrath's Nap
Great Tsar (3.00 Fakenham)