There is no mistaking the sense that 2011 could prove a defining year in one of the great careers in Turf history, and Henry Cecil could hardly be more satisfied by its first key skirmish.
Twice Over, his dual Champion Stakes winner, is now as short as 5-2 favourite with Coral (from 6-1) for the Dubai World Cup after an impressive rehearsal over course and distance last night.
Cecil, who also has the favourite for the first Classic of the domestic season in Frankel, had decided to change his strategy with Twice Over after he disappointed in a rough race for the world's richest prize last year. This time round, rather than bringing him in cold, he sent the horse out to the desert in time to take in a trial. In addition to some fairly demanding opposition, Twice Over had to overcome a wide draw in the Maktoum Challenge, but Tom Queally soon managed to get his mount settled on the outside, and within striking range. Twice Over moved up powerfully on the home turn and, having taken control a furlong out, was always holding the late challenge of a race-fit rival in Musir. "He quickened as good as he ever has," Queally said. "It would have been nice if he'd run well, but he has won it, so touch wood it's a step to better things."
There was also an encouraging trial from Gitano Hernando, who nearly caught Musir despite suffering another awkward trip. On a productive night for Newmarket trainers, moreover, Wigmore Hall made his big breakthrough in the Jebel Hatta Stakes, just thwarting the top-class Poet's Voice and Presvis in a three-way photo.
It will not register on the weighing room scales, meanwhile, but two jockeys riding at Newbury today have just been relieved of a huge burden. Ruby Walsh contests his first race since breaking a leg at Down Royal in November, while Jason Maguire will be celebrating a reprieve from the suspension that had menaced the biggest opportunity of his career.
Maguire is now free to maintain his partnership with the unbeaten Peddlers Cross at Cheltenham on Tuesday week, having yesterday persuaded the appeals panel of the British Horseracing Authority to reduce by one priceless day the whip ban he picked up at Doncaster last week. Maguire and Donald McCain, trainer of Peddlers Cross, had both deplored the severity of a seven-day suspension that ruled him out of the Stan James Champion Hurdle. "I'm absolutely delighted," Maguire said. "It's been hanging over me in the last few days, but I've had a lot of support from fellow jockeys and people at the races. It's the right result for the Champion Hurdle."
Walsh had been so aghast at Maguire's treatment that he delayed his comeback by one day to reduce the possibility of picking up an untimely ban. And his return today comprises just one mount. Paul Nicholls has been keeping him busy this week, however: Walsh schooled a series of his leading Festival candidates, and also partnered Kauto Star in a racecourse gallop.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Our Father (2.55 Newbury) Turned over at short odds last time but pulled miles clear of the rest, having been hampered early.
Kingsmere (4.05 Newbury) Point-to-point winner quickly restored to fences under Rules, following an excellent effort in defeat over hurdles.
One to watch
French Ties (Jennie Candlish) idled in front at Leicester, so the handicapper may not prevent him following up.
Where the money's going
Quinz is 16-1 from 25-1 with Totesport for the John Smith's Grand National.