Even at this relatively late stage in the campaign the door to the three-year-old specialist miling division is still just about wide enough open for viable title contenders to shoulder their way through and two such are set to clash at Goodwood on Saturday. One-time Classic hope Zacinto and proven Classic performer Delegator were among yesterday's nine entries for the Celebration Mile.
Zacinto, trained by Sir Michael Stoute for Khaled Abdullah, made such an impression when winning on his debut last year that he was made the early favourite for the 2,000 Guineas, and did little to depress his fanciers when narrowly beaten in a prestige juvenile contest last September.
But, as is the way with so many young athletes, injury intervened and the Guineas came and went without him. In fact, the next time he was seen in public was three weeks ago, when he resumed his career with a narrow but decisive victory from race-fit rivals on the course and over the distance he will tackle on Saturday.
The son of Dansili's progress since has pleased those closest to him and this week's Group 2 assignment is a stepping stone to a tilt at the best in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot next month. "We'll get this race over with before we think about Ascot," said Teddy Grimthorpe, Abdullah's racing manager, "but all things being equal it's very much a possibility. We were very pleased indeed with him last time after such a long lay-off."
The appearance of Delegator, who sets the standard with his runner-up spot to Sea The Stars in the 2,000 Guineas, will be as eagerly monitored. Since going under by just a neck to Mastercraftsman in the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, the colt - another by Dansili - has changed stables, making the transfer from Brian Meehan to the Godolphin team.
He, too, has the QE II - and a meeting with Mastercraftsman's Ballydoyle stablemate Rip Van Winkle, the champion-elect - on his agenda and had his final pipe-opener ahead of Saturday in Newmarket yesterday morning, a spin of six furlongs on the private Godolphin gallop with Frankie Dettori in the saddle. "A very nice bit of work," said trainer Saeed Bin Suroor afterwards, "showing us his good turn of foot and we're looking forward to his first run for us."
Zacinto has run six times in his life, Delegator seven times. Against their bright youthful promise will be dogged experience, in the sturdy shape an eight-year-old with 62 races under his girth. Mac Love has been round the block a few times; he started his racing life with Mick Channon, followed by spells with John Akehurst and Jeremy Noseda before coming under the care of Stef Liddiard a year ago.
His latest billet, a small pond where he is the biggest fish, clearly suits him well. Last time out the revitalised old warrior took a Group 3 at Salisbury in sparkling style, his best performance since chasing Rakti home in the Lockinge Stakes four years ago and one which earned him a step back up the ladder this weekend. "We don't know if he's up to taking a hores like Delegator," said Liddiard, "but his Salisbury run was solid, in a quick time. He went into that race bouncing and has come out of it bouncing."
Turf account: Sue Montgomery
Mingun Bell (2.30 Southwell) Raced kindly for today's rider when scoring cosily at Warwick and, being US-bred, should have no problems with the transfer to an artificial surface.
Come Back To Me (3.45 Sedgefield) Worried out of victory last time out after travelling well and may not be entirely straightforward but should be capable of getting off the mark in a poor contest.
One to watch
Keep on the right side of progressive novice chaser King Troy (Alan King). After a sterling effort against more experienced rivals in a valuable handicap last month, the Presenting seven-year-old returned to his own division with a determined victory at Newton Abbot on Sunday and there should be more to come.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Kind Heart (4.00 Southwell)