One of the difficulties facing those who would seek to revise the racing calendar and decree that the seasons for the different codes shall begin and end on a specific day could hardly have been better illustrated over the past few days. At the weekend the weather was positively springlike, almost balmy; yesterday morning on the training gallops in Newmarket the wind once more had a keen, almost wintry edge to it under skies only intermittently blue.
But then, that's the trouble with those pesky seasons; they do tend to blend into each other. And for a sport which beats to the pulse of nature – its premier performers are animals and its roots are in the countryside, after all – that is probably as it should be, too. It is part of its time-forged rhythm that the start of the Flat season proper – that is, turf racing – overlaps the end of the jump season. Just like spring itself, its start is stuttering and no worse for it.
The marketing men would doubtless like every daffodil in the country to burst into bloom and snowdrops simultaneously wither on a prearranged date on the grounds that to have both out together is too difficult for potential floraphiles to understand.
For well over a century, though, racing aficionados have coped with the fact that the first trials for the Classic season are sandwiched by two of the year's feature steeplechases, the Grand National and its Scottish facsimile. And the two branches will be disentangled at everyone's peril.
One of the Flat season's potential stars, the Oaks favourite Timepiece, has been catching the eyes of watchers in Newmarket lately; indeed, her form on the gallops has caused her place at the head of the Epsom market to harden. She will be putting that homework to the test against colts tomorrow in the nine-furlong Fielden Stakes on the first day of the Craven meeting at her home track.
Khaled Abdullah's daughter of Zamindar won twice over a mile as a juvenile and holds the 1,000 Guineas entry but trainer Henry Cecil is keen to test her over further. "She may need more than a mile and first time out I don't want to run her at the shorter distance," said Cecil, on the mark with another three-year-old filly, Whirly Dancer, at Folkestone yesterday. "She should run well, and should she win well we can always bring her back in trip for the Guineas." Timepiece's eight rivals include 2,000 Guineas entry Black Snowflake, who will be a first runner in Britain for the new Godolphin trainer, Mahmood al-Zarooni.
Tomorrow's more traditional filly Guineas trial has attracted a field of 11, of whom once-raced Safina, from the Sir Michael Stoute yard, and Rockfel Stakes winner Music Show, trained by Mick Channon, are most prominent in the Classic betting.
Though Grand National hero Tony McCoy allowed himself a rare day off yesterday, he will be back to work this afternoon at Exeter. His friend and colleague Ruby Walsh, though, will be having a longer and less welcome holiday. It was confirmed yesterday that the arm the Irishman broke at Aintree on Saturday two races before the National will take at least two months to mend. "It's now in plaster," said his sister and agent Jennifer, "and he'll be out for eight to ten weeks."
It was also announced yesterday that another National winner has reached the end of his honourable career. Silver Birch, who took the great prize three years ago, completed the course in 12th place in the Topham Chase round one circuit of the unique fences on Friday, but will race no more. The 13-year-old gelding will spend the rest of his days at owner Brian Walsh's farm in Co Kildare. "We won't forget that day at Aintree," said trainer Gordon Elliott, "and I wish the horse a happy retirement."
Turf account: Sue Montgomery
Sir Louis (3.30 Yarmouth) Looked one to keep on side when he scored on his handicap debut at Redcar last week. Neither today's quicker ground nor step up in trip should be inconvenience.
Hits Only Jude (2.20 Pontefract) A decent effort in second at Catterick last week after the disadvantage of racing wide and can record his first win on turf, on which surface his mark is considerably lower than all-weather.
One to watch
Clarietta (J L Dunlop) Looked notably backward when third on seasonal debut at Kempton last week. Will do much better with that race under her girth, and longer distance under her hooves.
Where The Money's Going
With both Denman and Silver By Nature ruled out of Saturday's Scottish Grand National, Poker de Sivola is now 5-1 favourite with Paddy Power.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Alcalde (4.30 Yarmouth).