Witchry heads light brigade

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During the domestic lull before this week's four high-class days on the Knavesmire at York, three of the sport's subtler linchpins – spectacle, history and anticipation – were nonetheless in gratifying evidence. Especially and appropriately here, where horses have galloped in anger for more than three centuries and the winner of one of the calendar's quirkiest offerings, the annual race restricted to grey horses, provided a direct link to racing's roots.

For many, the beauty of the beast is an important attraction and although yesterday's low-grade sprint was inconsequential in the greater athletic scheme there was no denying its aesthetic value. Though monochrome, shades of grey are never dull; this time they ranged from Sutton Veny's dark, tempered steel to Zowington's paler grizzle, embellished with bright dapples.

The charge of the white brigade went in a thrilling finish to the nine-year-old gelding Witchry, one of five silvered darlings in line abreast a furlong out. Greys comprise only a tiny proportion of the thoroughbred population and the genetic colour inheritance of every one can be tracked back to a single grey individual imported to Britain during the early 18th century. Witchry is no exception; his far-distant ancestor, the Alcock Arabian, is a 26-greats grandsire.

Earlier, the focus was on the blues. In the opening six-furlong juvenile contest, the Godolphin team produced a promising prospect in the well-bred Cape Cross colt Signs In The Sand and made it a double in that department at Newbury where Janood, whose dam is closely related to the Derby winner New Approach, rippled the early market for next year's 2,000 Guineas with a stylish success over a furlong further.

Both youngsters coped well with rain-softened going at both venues, as did their older Saeed Bin Suroor stablemate Shakespearean, given a perfect ride from the front by Frankie Dettori to take the afternoon's richest prize, the Group Two Hungerford Stakes. But another of the squad, Kite Wood, floundered as favourite in his bid for a second Geoffrey Freer Stakes.

The winner, the Melbourne Cup hope Sans Frontieres, was trying both the 13-furlong distance and testing conditions for the first time en route to his first elite mission, the Irish St Leger, and passed both tests as Johnny Murtagh sent him forging clear of Laaheb. "I was worried about the ground," said his trainer, Jeremy Noseda, "but we had to find out because there's a good chance it will be soft at the Curragh next month."

At Deauville, the four-time Group One winner Vision d'Etat made light under Olivier Peslier of heavy conditions and a long absence to beat inferior rivals in a 10-furlong Group Three, his first outing since he disappointed in the Dubai World Cup in March.

The highlight of the Normandy season comes today when Peslier is due to ride Goldikova in the Prix Jacques le Marois. The mare, whose chief rival is the Richard Hannon-trained Paco Boy, is going for a European record 11th top-level victory.

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