After last night's embarrassment at Worcester, when the latest prize-money protest by trainers reduced a novice hurdle to a walkover, the British Turf today presents a more congenial side. Admittedly, the July Festival at Newmarket is always best enjoyed in fine weather, with its flowers and shade, and the forecast suggests that the going may again deteriorate. But at least some things in the garden will be seen to be rosy.
As it happens, the meeting's first race could well be won by a trainer who has himself helped to organise boycotts, on the Flat, very similar to the one at Worcester. William Haggas thinks deeply about his sport, on and off the track, and due regard should be given to his decision to promote Valiant (1.20) to Group company after just one handicap start.
Evidently this colt is going places fast – and well he might, as a son of Galileo picked out by Highclere Thoroughbreds. After winning his first two starts over 10 furlongs, on both occasions only hitting top gear late on, Valiant gets another three to cover in the Bahrain Trophy. Last year's winner, Masked Marvel, followed up in the St Leger, and Haggas may well have Doncaster in the back of his mind for Valiant. True, his rivals rather softened each other up at York last time, but it was surely latent stamina that helped him take advantage.
If it is hard to predict the rate of improvement in Valiant, then the same holds true of the younger colts, likewise in the early stages of their careers, who converge in the TNT July Stakes. The key protagonists all had a learning experience in defeat at Royal Ascot, and the market can only be predicated on the relative historic stature of the different races they contested there. Fourth in the Coventry, for instance, might typically be assumed a match for second in the Norfolk. To that extent, Sir Prancealot sets the standard, but Gale Force Ten will enjoy the sixth furlong – and likewise Ahern, who could well reverse Norfolk Stakes form with Gale Force Ten after running green and finishing strongly. But Alhebayeb (1.50) could be value to beat them all, despite emerging from the weakest juvenile race at the royal meeting. For he did very well to join more experienced rivals on the podium, not least in shaping as though this extra distance will accelerate the progress he had already made in a bare fortnight since his debut.
The other Group race on the card is a very strong running of the Princess of Wales's Goldsmiths Stakes. The admirable Red Cadeaux can be relied upon to set a fairly exacting standard, even under his penalty, but may need a strong pace at this trip. Jakkalberry (3.00) has nearly five lengths to find on their Ascot running, but that was his first start since March and he did travel well for a long way. Third place in the Sheema Classic had suggested that he was finding his feet for his new trainer, and he will go close so long as the rain holds off.
A forlorn hope, perhaps, after Catterick had to give up halfway through yesterday's card, while waterlogging has already claimed Hamilton tomorrow. But those are not the only storm clouds over the sport.
It seems that the race at Worcester last night was targeted primarily because top trainers could nearly guarantee control of the final field. Various similar stands have been attempted in recent years, notably at tracks – like Worcester – in the ownership of Northern and Arena Racing. Even when a walkover has been contrived, however, it has not always proved possible to persuade smaller yards to join the protests of rivals whose income is secured in better races.
With a safety limit of just 12 at Worcester, various powerful stables – including those of Nicky Henderson, Jonjo O'Neill, David Pipe, Alan King and Donald McCain – were able to enter enough recent winners to dominate the ballot. By arranging for one horse to stand its ground, they ensured that the race could not be voided. Prize-money could duly be collected by Nigel Twiston-Davies, and then divided between his peers for the payment of a mandatory fine, £140 a head, with the balance going to the Injured Jockeys' Fund.
Charlie Mann, the Lambourn trainer who coordinated the boycott, is promising further action against "unacceptable" prize-money. Last night's race carried a first prize of £2,053, nearly £900 short of the tariff recommended by professional bodies.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Showboating (4.40 Newmarket) Frankie Dettori and the drop to five furlongs prompted a career best over course and distance last time.
Zaina (2.25 Newmarket) Could be up against a Group horse in Greek War but worth another chance, her maiden success having worked out so well.
One to watch
Walter White (Andrew Balding) Was only fifth of eight on his nursery debut at Haydock last weekend, but the way he travelled over 7f suggested he might prove equal to his rating dropped in trip.
Where the money's going
Golden Lilac is 10-11 from 6-4 with William Hill for the Etihad Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket tomorrow.