After such a miserable experience at Aintree, it will come as a profound relief for the Turf community to turn its gaze today upon a featureless Suffolk plain. Not that the Rowley Mile is entirely flat. In fact, it is precisely the opportunity to acquaint potential Classic candidates with the Dip – even as a race enters its decisive phase – that gives the Craven meeting its purpose. That is most obviously true of those whose rehearsals qualify them to return in barely a fortnight, for the Guineas, but will also apply to some whose target is instead the Investec Derby over the rollercoaster at Epsom.
Both are represented today, albeit the main focus of the meeting remains the reappearance of Most Improved on tomorrow's card. The heavily backed second favourite for the Qipco 2,000 Guineas will have his trial over the full course and distance, whereas the fillies, who today test their 1,000 Guineas potential in the Lanwades Stud Nell Gwyn Stakes, must wait for an eighth furlong. That will doubtless leave straws for some to clutch afterwards, but it looks a highly competitive race regardless.
With so many good fillies in his care, and back from Dubai a good deal earlier this time round, Mahmood Al Zarooni seeks a new Blue Bunting. Frankie Dettori rides Pimpernel, who got closest to a smart prospect in Wading over course and distance last autumn. She did not build on that over the synthetic track at Meydan, however, and Mickael Barzalona could well beat Godolphin's senior rider on Minidress. But while she was most impressive on her debut last summer, she looked more of a middle-distance prospect when fourth over this same stretch on her only subsequent start.
Russelliana also looks the sort to come into her own over farther, so it is auspicious that she could chase home Gamilati – Al Zarooni's top Guineas hope, until a setback last month – over just six furlongs on the July Course last year. Clearly not herself at Ascot thereafter, she was not seen again but a top team has plainly got her up and running with the Guineas in mind.
Starscope remains totally unexposed, after a winning debut over the course last autumn, but meets experienced rivals in what may prove a congested finish. Of these, none has more scope for progress than Regal Realm, who repeatedly suggested herself capable of better after beating Gamilati and Samitar on her debut. Picking up late in sprint finishes on her next two starts, she may not have absorbed a recent race when apparently exposing her limitations at Doncaster, and looked clearly over the top after that. Evidently, she has not grown much over the winter, but she hardly has a precocious pedigree and represents a stable with three three-year-old winners from four starters so far.
The road to Epsom, meanwhile, starts in the Blue Square Feilden Stakes, albeit the race contains so many improvers that a watching brief seems prudent. Jungle Beat, for instance, was well backed when beating a useful rival at Newbury last summer, but was not seen again. At this time of year, moreover, it remains perfectly feasible to discover an even better Derby prospect in the 10-furlong maiden that follows.
A less satisfying anomaly sees lucrative sales races continue to undermine the Pattern. Samitar would have been among the favourites for the Nell Gwyn, but once again pursues cash over kudos in the Tattersalls Millions Sprint.
Regardless, it must be hoped that the resumption of high-class Flat racing helps the sport retrieve its bearings after the anguish of Aintree. David Pipe yesterday added his voice to those counselling against a hasty reaction to the loss of two horses in the National. "It's very sad for all concerned, as these horses become a part of your extended family," the trainer said. "However, I urge that we do not make some kind of unfounded, knee-jerk reaction to these losses. As with all competitive sport, there is an element of risk – and Aintree have been at pains to improve safety for many years now. They will review the race as they always do, and make the appropriate improvements."
He added that Junior, who fell at the second, could be turned out in the Scottish version at Ayr on Saturday.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Amazing Storm (5.55 Newmarket) Always a hot race, but he can make his experience and fitness count, finally reverting to sprinting after again racing freely on his comeback.
Zumbi (3.35 Newmarket) Has real scope for improvement, having disappeared after hastening into Group company three weeks after a rare debut win for his stable.
One to watch
On His Own (Willie Mullins) Took to Aintree well, closing into third when caught out by Becher's second time on Saturday. Still lightly raced, he is already shortlisted for next year.
Where the money's going
Lie Forrit is 12-1 from 16-1 with the sponsors for the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr on Saturday, while another Borders runner, Abbeybraney, is 25-1 from 40-1.