This really has been a blasted Heath over the past couple of days, but today the gale was rendered incarnate by a colt named Toronado. His runaway success in the last of its Classic trials crowned a pleasing revival in the significance of this meeting, Hot Snap and Garswood having won their own rehearsals impressively the previous day. But while both arguably owed something to the shelter they found from fierce gusts across the track, Toronado went gliding clear of what had become a tailwind – and blew apart the betting on the Qipco 2,000 Guineas. Though Dawn Approach remains favourite, Toronado is no better than 4-1 to beat him back here in a fortnight.
Unbeaten at two, he was sent off at odds-on to beat just three rivals for the Novae Insurance Craven Stakes. If the opposition lacked depth, it did not lack quality and included a colt who had run him close in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster last season. Dundonnell had admittedly been held up in his preparation, but when he came off the bridle he primarily seemed to be registering the improvement in Toronado since. The favourite had really taken the eye beforehand, after all, if still a little wintry in his coat; and Richard Hughes needed no more than hands and heels to send him bounding clear upon a long, buoyant stride.
There were four lengths in it at the line, Havana Gold ultimately edging the race for second. This was a sixth Craven success for their veteran trainer Richard Hannon but the Guineas is not the limit of his ambitions this time. Already he is adamant that Toronado is the best Epsom prospect he has ever had, and the odds against him emulating his sire, High Chaparral, in the Investec Derby were duly halved to 8-1 by Betfred. "There's no doubt he'll go a mile and a half," Hannon said. "But he has the speed to go round a place like Epsom, as well. He's a machine. He'll come back for the Guineas and whatever beats him will win, I guess."
Hughes seemed deeply impressed. "Even a month ago, I would have said he didn't have the electric turn of foot of Canford Cliffs," the jockey said. "I was worried he wouldn't have the pace for the Guineas. But the more serious work, the more he has started to come alive, and he's showing us everything now. He quickened into the dip today and he quickened again coming out of it. Not many can do that. At Doncaster I was nursing home a big, weak horse, but he's the real deal now."
Another unbeaten colt had already staked a possible Epsom claim in the Tattersalls Millions Stakes. Windhoek was ultimately all out to hold the promising Greatwood by a short head, with Ghurair breathing down their necks, but all three are likely to proceed to a Derby trial next. Windhoek had disappeared with a fractured pastern after a winning debut last May, and had lately been troubled by a foot abscess. Mark Johnston duly reckoned him 30 kilos overweight for his return and predicts corresponding improvement in the Dante Stakes.
Hot Snap's trainer, Sir Henry Cecil, meanwhile maintained his heartening start to life after Frankel by saddling Tickled Pink for a decisive success in a Group Three sprint – a remarkable achievement for a filly making her first start outside maiden company.
Fallen McCoy in hospital drama
It was a bad day for another of the modern Turf's outstanding achievers. Tony McCoy, on the cusp of an 18th consecutive title, was carried off the course after a hurdles fall at Cheltenham and taken to hospital with chest injuries. Officials stressed that McCoy remained conscious and had movement in all his limbs.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Celestial Dawn (8.0 Bath) Course winner scrapes into this grade after being dropped a pound for failing to stay a longer trip on his return.
So Beloved (3.05 Newbury) Form of his maiden win last year proved strong and starts out in handicaps off a good mark.
One to watch
Leitrim Pass (William Haggas) Was extricated from traffic just too late at Kempton on Wednesday before flying home to be beaten by just a length.