A teeming, perspiring crowd and a first prize of nearly £100,000 for one of the most frantically contested handicaps of the year will together make the Knavesmire no place for faint hearts this afternoon. What a test of nerve, then, awaits Martin Lane when hoisted into the saddle on Wigmore Hall before the John Smith's Cup.
With Jamie Spencer unable to do the weight, Michael Bell has chosen to bring Lane's 3lb claim into play. The young apprentice has a fairly moderate draw to overcome, with no quarter likely from the many senior riders starting closer to the rail. His mount, moreover, comes here after three consecutive defeats – two as hot favourite. Even so, there are strong grounds for believing that such a hectic environment will lift Wigmore Hall (3.05) to a new peak.
A son of that underrated stallion, High Chaparral, he was a ridiculously easy winner of a handicap at the Craven meeting but was then twice caught out by an inadequate gallop in small fields. Given cover in the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot, he soon had a lot to do and then had to be switched before flying home to join a three-way photo. Spencer dismounted and assured Bell that Wigmore Hall would some day operate at a much higher level, and the form has already begun to work out. As the solitary three-year-old in the field, he can improve past older rivals today.
Richard Fahey has won three of the last eight runnings and accounts for a quarter of the field this time, but his limited expectations seem justified against more obviously progressive rivals. Royal Destination looks a big danger, for instance, at just 4lb higher than when beating a big field over course and distance last summer, and shaping well on his delayed reappearance. But while Imposing looks sure to relish the long straight, he may eventually prove best over farther.
The flourishing Cornus cut down Red Cape (2.0) at Pontefract during the week but there will be less competition for the lead this time over a track that favours front-runners.
In the next race Mac's Power is tempting after finally rewarding perseverance at Doncaster last time, but the handicapper has hammered him 8lb and he may not be quite so effective over this extra furlong. Magaling (2.30) was discarded cheaply by Luca Cumani last season, which would ordinarily be enough to put you off, but he has shown immediate promise for Mick Easterby, whose name must have been just about the last Cumani wanted to see on the sales docket.
Cumani has excellent prospects, however, with Drunken Sailor (3.40) provided he has absorbed a very generous effort in the Northumberland Plate – although Deauville Flyer, who follows him here, remains capable of better than he showed on that day.
Channel 4 also has cameras at Ascot and Chester, where the class acts are Dream Eater (2.50) and Borderlescott (3.20) respectively.
Both these campaigners excelled when third at the royal meeting, the former showing the benefits of a wind operation behind Goldikova and the latter showing undiminished appetite behind Equiano. The eight-year-old Borderlescott also has the rails draw to defend a trophy he won last year.