The authors of the revamped Champions' Day at Ascot will be grateful should the weather prove rather more benign, next October, than seems likely this time round. For deteriorating conditions, either side of the Channel, promise anything but a level playing field for the top-class sport scheduled over the next three days.
As it happens, after finally confirming Workforce an intended runner in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, connections sounded optimistic yesterday that the Derby winner would cope with the testing conditions expected at Longchamp on Sunday. But soft ground raises questions about some of the key contenders for the Shadwell Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket today.
The trainer who is surely rubbing his hands is David Simcock, who saddled Dream Ahead for the biggest success of his career to date in the Prix Morny in August. This colt has a pretty extravagant knee action and had previously won his maiden on easy ground by nine lengths. The fourth at Deauville has since bolted up in another French Group race, and Dream Ahead remains entitled to further progress.
Another able trainer seeking a big breakthrough is Ed McMahon, who saddles Temple Meads. This colt has also won on easy ground, but his energies needed conserving to last this trip at Newbury last time and he has so much speed that an emphasis on stamina seems unlikely to suit.
Approve has Group-race runs on the board but the key horse is surely Strong Suit. Despite dominating so many juvenile maidens through the season, Richard Hannon has never been swayed from the certainty that this colt is much the best among them. He was ultimately vindicated in a similar view of Canford Cliffs last year and Hannon is happy to run Strong Suit again at two. The outrageous fashion of his Royal Ascot success means that the form – which does not look terribly robust now – need not be taken too literally.
Strong Suit (3.05) may simply have seen too much daylight in Ireland last time, and Richard Hughes will doubtless return to more patient tactics today. The potential doubt about the ground would seem adequately factored into odds of around 3-1.
Hannon had to scratch Memory from the Adnams Cheveley Park Stakes, following a poor scope, leaving a really difficult race. Each way odds against Sharnberry (2.30) permit speculation that her strong maiden form offers an adequate base for this step up in class.
As for Workforce, he remained among 22 with their hats still in the Arc ring yesterday, having satisfied connections with his final blow-out. Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to Khaled Abdullah, is relatively sanguine about the ground. "I don't think he'll mind it, personally," he said. "He went on Long Hill this morning, ridden by Ryan Moore. The main thing was to see his action and general demeanour, and both were good. He just had a nice smooth piece of work. The point of waiting until the last moment was that he really is an important horse to us."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Simple Jim (6.45 Wolverhampton) Races have not developed to his advantage since he won off a mark just 1lb lower at Thirsk in July, including when left too much to do last time, but there's little doubt that he remains ahead of the handicapper.
Toms Laughter (7.15 Wolverhampton) Very well treated on his best form and returned from a long break to make a highly-promising start for his shrewd new yard here last week, soon up against it in the rear but rattling home into fourth.
One to watch
Fimias (L M Cumani) Duly improved when stepped up to 7f and a close fourth on his nursery debut at Kempton last week, only finding top gear late on, and looking sure to profit from another step up in trip.
Where the money's going
Lady Of The Desert, having confirmed sprinting as her metier at Ascot last weekend, is 11-4 from 7-2 with William Hill for the Prix de l'Abbaye at Longchamp on Sunday.