Ten to watch
The annual's 1,160 pages are a marvel of compression. Could anyone tell a life story more concisely than that of the three-year- old bay filly by Shaadi out of Octavia Girl, trained last season by Barry Hills and marked in the margin with the damning squiggle used by Timeform to indicate an ungenuine animal. The entry for the pre- sciently named Shady Girl reads:
Leggy, quite good-topped attractive filly. Fair maiden. Didn't impress with her attitude, hanging sharply right under pressure on third start. Stays 10.5f, ran badly in blinkers. Sold 2,800 guineas Newmarket autumn sales. Sent to South Korea.
Fortunately, when dealing with quality, Timeform allows the compilers of Race- horses of 1996 some space for anecdote as well as form. Thus we learn that, when Sir Mark Prescott sent out Red Camellia for her first listed race at Sandown, there were no doubts about her stepping up to seven furlongs for the first time. These were the orders to stable jockey George Duffield: 'I told George to go out and rattle every bone in the opposition's bodies.' There are a few Tory politicians wishing right now they knew how to do the same.
The annual discloses, too, the two rea- sons the owner Jean-Louis Bouchard gave for missing the Prix Lupin with the talented Ragmar: 'One is rational, to avoid a hard race against Helissio. The other is more emotional, to be able to dream a little longer.' M. Bouchard, too, would have opted for a late election.
Anyway, with the aid of Racehorses of 1996 here are my top ten for the flat in 1997, not all Classic contenders or Group horses who will make rare appearances at short prices but one or two sportier fancies too. I have to start with my heroine of last year, Henry Cecil's brilliant 1,000 Guineas winner Bosra Sham. If her foot problems of last season have been overcome, and she won the 1,000 and the Dubai Champion Stakes despite them, she should be unstop- pable this year over lm to 1m2f. Pat Eddery, who will have to watch the stable's new jockey Kieren Fallon riding Cecil's top fillies like Sleepytime, Reams of Verse, Yashmak, Fiji and Fascinating Rhythm this season, rates Bosra Sham the nicest filly he has ever sat on.
If anyone has a filly to beat the Cecil selection in this year's 1,000 Guineas, it is likely to be Criquette Head. She sent over the Danzig filly Pas de Reponse to win the Cheveley Park States last year from the impressive Moonlight Paradise. She has won the Cheveley Park twice before, with Ma Biche and RavineIla. Both went on to win the Guineas, so Pas de Reponse is my No. 2.
No. 3 is Dr Massini, one-time favourite for last year's Derby, who missed the race after going lame three days before. He has been kept in training this year to go for ten to 12-furlong races. At Kempton on Easter Monday he showed brilliant acceleration to win the Magnolia Stakes. No. 4, from the same stable, is the lightly raced Multi- coloured, a four-year-old Rainbow Quest colt who is just the sort of older middle-dis- tance horse with whom Michael Stoute excels.
We need a good sprinter in the team and No. 5 is the six-year-old Astrac with whom Gaye Kelleway last year achieved the notable feat of improving a horse acquired from the Reg Akehurst stable. Astrac did us a good turn last year, winning three times at 8-1. This sturdy sort goes on most ground.
For those who are not on regular heart medication I am including Sir Mark Prescott's talented middle-distance filly Last Second, who cannot be raced too often and who lives up to her name in her races. She has a blinding, but short, burst of speed and has to be held up for a final swoop by the imperturbable George Duffield. After her Group 2 victories at Newmarket and Goodwood last year (it was three valium for the owner Prince Faisal and four for the jockey, said her trainer) the stable are understood to have the Coronation Cup in mind this season.
'Is it me, or is it hot in here?' Much impressed with the Lambourn trainer Brian Meehan's steady advance, I include his Easycall, a tough and consistent speedster as a two-year-old, who should take one of the top five-furlong events this year. No. 8 in the list is Robert Arm- strong's Kutta, joint hero of an epic strug- gle to dead heat with Balynakelly at Newbury last year over 101. He is a battler who should do well in 1m4f races this year, especially if we ever get testing conditions again.
Ninth is another of Gaye Kelleway's horses, the four-year-old Sorbie Tower, who progressed rapidly through the ranks all year and who was put away, says Time- form, after a disappointing race in France last September to be targeted at the top mile events this year. Finally, I will go for Musical Pursuit, beaten in a photo finish in the Dewhurst and still a nice price for this year's 2,000 Guineas. It would be due com- pensation for the trainer, Mark Tompkins, whose Even Top lost the race in a photo- finish last year, if he could make it this time.
Robin Oakley is political editor of the BBC.