But at Warren Place, they are still confident. Yesterday morning on Newmarket Heath the 1,000 Guineas favourite, Bosra Sham - due to make her public reappearance in the Fred Darling Stakes at the Berkshire track on Friday - came through her latest homework with flying colours. The white-faced chestnut quickened away from her lead horse on the Limekilns trial ground as soon as Tony McGlone gave her the word and finished well clear with her ears pricked. "Not bad, is she?" said her trainer, Henry Cecil.
One of the features of life at racing's headquarters during the close season has been the degree of partisan support accorded to Bosra Sham and her great rival, Blue Duster, who will not run before the Guineas but will have a racecourse gallop after the sport at Newmarket on Thursday. The pair, the two top-rated British fillies last year, did not meet as juveniles, and their showdown will be three weeks today.
But on the training grounds, interest in the town's leading ladies has been intense. The two are very different: Bosra Sham is an imposing, rangy, relaxed individual guaranteed to stay every yard of the Rowley Mile; Blue Duster is small and neat, untried over the distance but possessing blinding speed at the finish.
Further spice is added to the equation by the people involved with the fillies. Cecil, who trains Bosra Sham for the Syrian businessman Wafic Said, has already won 15 Classics; Blue Duster, trained by one of the sport's emerging talents, David Loder, runs for Sheikh Mohammed, who not only fell out publicly with Cecil last year but also deprived him of two more English Classic triumphs by taking his former charges Moonshell and Classic Cliche away to Dubai to be trained. The Guineas may not be a grudge match, but the savour of the situation is not lost.
This week's racing - three days at Newmarket's Craven meeting, two at Newbury - will reveal whether there will be any other fillies fit to spoil the party. Those bidding to shine in the Nell Gwyn Stakes on Tuesday will include Dance Sequence, Mezzogiorno, Maid For The Hills, Honest Guest and the Oaks favourite, Bint Salsabil; but this year the focus will be less on that recognised trial than on Blue Duster's solo spin.
The colts take their turn in the Free Handicap on Wednesday and the Craven Stakes on Thursday. Although Mystiko went on to win the Guineas after taking the former five years ago (his trainer, Clive Brittain, saddles World Premier this time), the Craven Stakes is generally the better yardstick, having thrown up the Classic winners Tirol, Doyoun, Don't Forget Me and Dancing Brave in the past 10 years. Pommard, the rising star, will be pitched in at the deep end against two of last year's Group One winners, Beauchamp King and Polaris Flight, but there will have to have been an electrifying performance to disturb Alhaarth's position at the head of the 2,000 Guineas market. The Dick Hern-trained odds-on favourite is scheduled to reappear in the Greenham Stakes on Saturday, where Danehill Dancer and Tagula, who chased him home in the Dewhurst, will reoppose.
The Derby is only eight weeks away, and one of the first serious pointers may come in Tuesday's Museum Maiden Stakes, won three years ago by the Epsom great Commander In Chief. The entries for the 10-furlong contest include Sacho, a once-raced son of Sadler's Wells and the triple Classic winner Oh So Sharp. Storm Trooper, one of Bosra Sham's regular partners on the gallops this spring, opens his season in the nine-furlong Feilden Stakes on Thursday.
Best bets: 10 to follow on the Flat in 1996
Alhaarth (3-y-o; Trainer: Dick Hern)
Top-class last year and the one they have to beat in the 2,000 Guineas. Derby trip may be problematic.
Bosra Sham (3-y-o; Henry Cecil)
Matured into a beauty and has talent to match looks. Guaranteed stamina over a mile can clinch 1,000 Guineas.
Dark Waters (3-y-o; Michael Stoute)
Should come into his own over middle distances.
Charnwood Forest (4-y-o; Saeed Bin Suroor)
Has enormous potential and could be a top miler.
Lucky Di (4-y-o; Luca Cumani).
Missed most of last year through injury, but looked a class act over 10 furlongs at Kempton six days ago.
Pivotal (3-y-o; Sir Mark Prescott)
Winner of two out of three last year; likely to stay further than sprint distances; sure to be shrewdly placed.
Riyadian (4-y-o; Paul Cole)
One for the King George/Arc short-list.
Ruznama (3-y-o; Barry Hills).
May be up to changing trainer's wretched luck in Oaks.
Sacho (3-y-o; John Gosden)
Caught eye behind Silver Dome on his only run at two. Could prove Sheikh Mohammed's best Derby hope.
Spectrum (4-y-o; Peter Chapple-Hyam).
From six runs has already notched two Group One victories and should cope with a mile and a half.Reuse content