'Ladies' can lay marker for Guineas
The English Flat season may have officially begun at Catterick a fortnight ago, but for many, particularly the big guns, it only truly begins in earnest today, when the sport returns to its Newmarket headquarters for the first time this year.
However, in the Lanwades Stud Nell Gwyn Stakes, the first major trial for the 1,000 Guineas, the big guns could be spiked.
Engineering the possible first giant-killing of the season is Geoff Oldroyd, trainer of Ladies Are Forever. Yesterday, he was filling the horsebox with diesel when I interrupted him. If one can ever get through to John Gosden on the phone, the glug-glug of fuel is not usually the background noise. Gosden will be looking for his third Nell Gwyn win since 2005 when he saddles Maqaasid, but Oldroyd believes his filly can gain her revenge on the Queen Mary winner.
Ladies Are Forever, a home-bred belonging to Reg Bond, who encouraged the former jockey to go back to training four years ago, was a taking six-length winner of a Beverley maiden on her debut last year. She then finished half a length behind Maqaasid in the Queen Mary before landing the extremely valuable Totepool Two-Year-Old Trophy at Redcar.
"She's had a great winter," said Oldroyd, who is based in the village of Brawby in North Yorkshire. "She's grown a lot and we're quite pleased with her. She's had a good lead-up to the race.
"We're very hopeful she can turn it round with Maqaasid. We felt the firm ground was against her that day and she came back lame. She's a better filly with a bit of juice in the ground, but she'll go on good to firm all right.
"We're at a slight disadvantage because she's not three until May and she'll be a better filly in a month. But sometimes you have to go when you have to go."
Oldroyd (65) initially stopped riding in 1983. He started training but stopped to return to the saddle again. He "messed about" breaking in horses before meeting up with Bond, a Yorkshire businessman, who asked him to train for him. He now has a yard of 24 horses, many of them homebred.
Oldroyd is one of the unsung heroes of British racing, having been involved in the sport for 50 years. "The Gold Tankard at Ayr was probably the biggest race I won, well it was quite big in those days, although I should think it's a mickey mouse race now," he said, reflecting on his riding career.
"I rode Roman Warrior, which wasn't too bad, and a lot of middle-of-the-road horses. I used to ride quite a few winners at Aintree when it was a mixed meeting and my ambition, which I achieved, was to ride the winner of the race before the Grand National and the race after while they were clearing up the debris!"
For a change today, Oldroyd will not be driving the lorry. "I'm going to go by car," he said, "and hopefully enjoy it!"
Elsewhere, Ballabriggs and Long Run, winners respectively of the Grand National and Gold Cup, will head a star-studded parade at Sandown a week on Saturday to celebrate the official end of the British jumping season.
The parade, which precedes racing where the Bet365 Gold Cup is the highlight, will also include Big Buck's, Denman, Master Minded, Zarkandar, Albertas Run, Captain Chris and Bobs Worth.
In keeping with recent seasons, when top athletes from other sports have presented the awards, Denise Lewis, gold medallist in the heptathlon at the Sydney Olympics, will be on hand to give Paul Nicholls and AP McCoy their trophies as leading trainer and jockey.
Trainer Mark Johnston has joined the board of the British Horseracing Authority as the director nominated by the Horsemen's Group. Nicholas Jones, who has several horses in training as well as owning Coln Valley Stud, will also join the board as an independent non-executive director.
Meanwhile, jockey Peter Toole remains in a critical but stable condition at the Walton Centre after his fall at Aintree on Saturday.
Finally, it might be worth keeping faith with Khor Sheed, which ran her only poor race when tailed off in the Cheveley Park Stakes in October, in today's £150,000 Tattersalls Millions 3-Y-O Sprint at Newmarket. That run should be forgiven. She has plenty of speed and seems sure to have been readied for this rich prize.
Pineapple Pete, which deserves extra credit for winning when coming from behind at Nottingham recently, can follow up in the TurfTV Handicap at Catterick. (© Daily Telegraph, London)