His trainer, Aidan O'Brien, had cautioned beforehand that Yeats was "a year older, and a year wiser", and only just ready for his reappearance at Navan yesterday. After watching him run, however, bookmakers instead decided that one of the great stayers of all time is simply a year slower.
That may yet prove a hasty judgement, O'Brien being increasingly comfortable with the idea of letting horses work their way to peak form on the racecourse. But that unprecedented fourth success in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot is no longer deemed a formality after Yeats was one of the first beaten in the Vintage Crop Stakes, dropping away to finish a distant sixth of eight behind the impressive Alandi. Yeats unquestionably needed the run, but his performance was so lacking in gusto that Coral eased him right out to 7-2, from 6-4, for the Gold Cup.
In fairness, Seamus Heffernan did not give his mount a hard time, once he had begun to tire in the sticky conditions, and it may even prove something of a blessing that Yeats could not engage Alandi. For he could only have done so at the expense of a very searching race, first time out.
Having only the second start of his career, Alandi betrayed his inexperience before coming back on the bridle and surging three-and-a-half lengths past Hindu Kush. Yet another feather in the cap of Galileo, his remarkable young sire, Alandi is trained for the Aga Khan by John Oxx. "We had plenty of offers to buy him as a hurdler at the end of last season," Oxx admitted. "But we decided to hold on to him, as he's very well bred. He holds back in his homework, so he should improve from this, and will now go for the Savel Beg Stakes at Leopardstown."
Heffernan, meanwhile, did not sound too downhearted with Yeats. "He just didn't go with me down the dip," the jockey shrugged. "He got a bit tired on the ground. When he gets his ground, and he's a bit fitter, he'll be a real competitor. I'm sure Aidan will have him right for the day that matters." O'Brien himself was on his way home from Longchamp, where he had saddled Thewayyouare for the Prix Ganay, the first Group One prize of the European season. Making his first start since leaving André Fabre, Thewayyouare was always handy as Red Rock Canyon set a slow pace, but Vision d'Etat proved much the best equipped for the sprint finish. Winner of the Prix du Jockey Club and fifth in the Arc last year, Vision d'Etat had clearly progressed from his own comeback over the course, three weeks previously, and idled as Loup Breton and Adlerflug closed to within a length. Thewayyouare kept on steadily for fourth with the Newmarket raiders, Cima De Triomphe and Tajaaweed, respectively sixth and last of eight.
Eric Libaud, his trainer, said that the winner has strengthened since last year and indicated that Royal Ascot could now be on his agenda. Johnny Murtagh meanwhile dismounted from Thewayyouare to suggest that he might have found the ground quicker than ideal.
It seems safe to predict better to come from Cima De Triomphe, whose new trainer, Luca Cumani, had earlier confirmed his standing on the world stage by winning the QEII Cup at Sha Tin with Presvis. After an exasperating series of near misses in big international races, this was an overdue success for Cumani, who will now send Presvis on for another valuable prize in Singapore next month.
Remarkably Presvis was ridden by Ryan Moore, who had flown out overnight after getting Tartan Bearer home in a photo at Sandown only the previous tea-time. Runner-up in the Derby last year, Tartan Bearer is unmistakably going to reach a new peak this summer. Clearly there is little prospect of Yeats doing the same, at the age of eight, but it is none the less too soon to consider him over the hill.
Nap: Box Office (3.50 Newcastle)
NB: Mr Newton (4.10 Towcester)