With Cheltenham in the formbook, the beat of the Flat pulse is quickening, no more so than in Newmarket yesterday where the old firm of Sir Michael Stoute and Kieren Fallon teamed up for the first time this year.
On a perfect early spring morning, with the sun as beguilingly bright in the sky as in the former champion jockey's winter quarters of California, but disseminating considerably less warmth, Fallon (pictured) lobbed twice up Warren Hill with the Freemason Lodge string.
Given the season, it was perhaps appropriate that his first mount was named Harbinger. His second, Imposing, could be considered an eponymous salute to the status he once held in his profession, and which he will work to recover once he returns to the fold in September.
Both colts were subjected to only a gentle spin; earlier Fallon had enjoyed more strenuous exercise Paul Howling’sTwist Again.
The Irishman, six times champion, is now more than two-thirds of the way through his exile from the track. Just over a year ago, having been cleared in court of race-fixing charges, he was given a worldwide ban by the French authorities after failing a drugs test but will come back later in the year with a clean slate under all regimes.
Fallon, 44, spent the winter riding behind the scenes at Santa Anita and his rehabilitation, as he counts down to the resumption of his career, will include work mornings with Stoute's charges, when his experience and input will be invaluable. "It won't be long before I'm 100 per cent fit," he said yesterday.
"I've been riding work all winter, I've been running and going out on a bike, I've played a lot of squash and I'm as fit as I can be at this stage."
Both unraced Harbinger, a son of Dansili owned by Highclere Thoroughbreds, and Imposing, a maiden winner by Danehill Dancer who carries Coolmore colours, hold the Derby entry. But even before Epsom in June, the title is in more immediate focus. On Saturday at Lingfield comes the culmination of the all-weather season with the Winter Derby.
The Group Three contest, over 10 furlongs for four-year-olds and upwards, is a Derby in name only, but offers a purse of £100,000, which makes it a classic enough target.
The ante-post favourite Premio Loco was also in action in Newmarket yesterday, stretching his chestnut legs in routine exercise. "He had his final blow-out on Tuesday," said trainer Chris Wall, "and seems in good form and we hope for a good run."
“I can't guarantee that he'll get 10 furlongs but he should get most of it and if he gets the trip anywhere it will be Lingfield."