This cherished meeting opened yesterday with squalls unfurling along the low horizons, and a result in the big race that served equally to blot and rip the pages of the formbook. Among the hardy aficionados gathered on the Rowley Mile, some perhaps wondered quite what it was they had been anticipating so eagerly. Few, even so, will be entertaining further anti-climax today when Most Improved, heavily backed this spring for the Qipco 2,000 Guineas, undertakes his trial in the Novae Insurance Craven Stakes.
There is something endearing about the candour with which Brian Meehan professes his confidence going into big races. But then he is perfectly familiar with the standard required, having saddled Delegator to land short odds here three years ago, before finishing second to Sea The Stars in the Guineas.
There is, in fact, remarkable symmetry between the profiles of Delegator and Most Improved, who likewise began his career by finishing second and then first in equivalent maiden races on the July Course here. Both were then fast-tracked to Group One company in the Dewhurst, where each ran green before finishing strongly behind an apparently exposed Jim Bolger colt. Delegator was beaten a length and a half by Intense Focus; Most Improved, barely half a length by Parish Hall.
Meehan's optimism was compounded here yesterday when another of his three-year-olds, a Giant's Causeway colt named Cogito, won a maiden first time out. Afterwards he reiterated that Most Improved "has done very well from two to three, and has had a really good preparation". Everyone at Manton was feeling bullish.
Just as well, really, as they are on rather a hiding to nothing. Certainly the odds today will permit little breathing space, and punters might be better off seeking each-way insurance in one of several other improvers. Most tempting of these is Forgotten Hero, who won by six lengths on his Lingfield reappearance but is primarily of interest on the basis of his debut here last autumn. Last early, he cut through a big field on the bridle only to run out of room as the first two asserted, bounding up the hill once clear for third. He looks capable of helping Charlie Hills earn his stripes this season.
"He has bags of talent," the young trainer said. "More experience will do him the world of good, but he has a high cruising speed and the straight mile will suit him."
Hills had just welcomed another promising three-year-old to the winner's enclosure in Model Pupil, who rallied splendidly after being headed in a maiden over 10 furlongs. With the family affiliation to Chester in mind, Hills may well be tempted to train this Sinndar colt for the Vase.
Sir Henry Cecil already has Chester in mind for another Khaled Abdulla colt, Stipulate, after a four-length success in the Blue Square Feilden Stakes. Though he did not really build on a promising start at two, Stipulate looked a different proposition as he quickly opened up off a steady gallop. "He has done well physically, and he has got speed, so he might be all right for something for the Dee Stakes," Cecil said.
Much to his relief, Cecil is now able to return the great Frankel into work after a brief scare over recent days. The unbeaten colt had struck into himself on the gallops, but a second scan has disclosed no tendon damage and he could yet resume his original schedule and reappear in the JLT Lockinge Stakes at Newbury next month. Cecil would plainly sooner avoid throwing him straight back into the furnace at Royal Ascot. "But we'll just have to feel our way with him," he said.
The Lanwades Stud Nell Gwyn Stakes failed to match its billing as a signpost to the Qipco 1,000 Guineas – back here a fortnight on Sunday – Esentepe having arrived with a record of one success from 10 starts. She none the less saw off all challengers from the front. Richard Hannon Jnr tried not to look too taken aback afterwards, while admitting that she had not warranted a Guineas entry. "Well that's burst a few bubbles," he said. "I thought she'd run well, though I didn't think she'd win."
Nor did many imagine that the Blue Square European Free Handicap had renewed its faded lustre as a Classic trial when Telwaar circled the field under a cool ride from William Buick. That said, it was good to see Peter Chapple-Hyam back with a colt who might yet enter the equation for the French Guineas, or maybe the Jersey Stakes.
Meanwhile there was one more postscript from the attrition at Aintree on Saturday. It turns out that Sunnyhillboy, caught only in the final stride, suffered an over-reach and has since undergone a precautionary procedure to prevent any complications. Having taken to the challenge with such enthusiasm, he is expected to return for another crack at the race next season.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Elusivity (3.35 Newmarket) Discovered his métier as a sprinter last autumn and the way he coasted through strong handicap fields suggested he can break into the elite.
Main Sequence (5.50 Newmarket) Ahzeemah will improve at this trip, but here meets one who must be followed until beaten – looking potentially better than a handicapper on his last visit here.
One to watch
Dream Esteem (David Pipe) Maintained her improvement when fourth at Aintree on Saturday, going powerfully when committed a long way out and pardonably fading late.
Where the money's going
Maybe was well backed for the Qipco 1,000 Guineas yesterday, even before the Nell Gwyn Stakes failed to produce an obvious candidate, and Ladbrokes now go 2-1 from 7-2.