The press conference staged by a panel of international handicappers in London yesterday was briefly delayed by a fire alarm test, and really that set the tone for everything that followed.
For the publication of the World Thoroughbred Rankings is a comforting ritual — one that shows the system to be functioning soundly, while permitting no sensible person to take the more sensational implications too literally.
You might easily be startled, otherwise, by the suggestion that Harbinger would not just have beaten Workforce in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, given the opportunity, but would have thrashed him by four lengths.
That inference is available in the rating Harbinger earned with that eye-watering, 11-length success in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot last July.
At 135, Harbinger is formally rated 6lb superior to any other horse on the planet in 2010, and only 1lb behind Sea The Stars, whose unprecedented campaign the previous year was supposed to define an epoch, rather than a single season.
It may well be that the King George, contested by just five others on firm ground, somewhat fell into his lap; that the failure of Workforce was only the most egregious among several.
Harbinger has been given full credit for a 12lb improvement; and for beating a colt, Cape Blanco, who won Group One prizes either side of this defeat.
At 128, Workforce became the fourth consecutive Derby winner to end the year as the world's top three-year-old.
Matthew Tester, responsible for British juveniles, had distinguished himself at the equivalent gathering last year by recommending Workforce as a Classic prospect on the basis of his maiden success at Goodwood.
He warrants due respect, then, in reproaching those who had assumed Frankel to be the most accomplished in 2010. Instead he shares top billing with Dream Ahead, who finished distressed when disappointing behind Frankel in the Dewhurst.
“Dream Ahead and David Simcock have not got the credit they deserve,” he said. “This horse won his maiden by nine lengths, won a Group One on his second start, and then won a Group One sprint by nine lengths.
“If he was trained by Aidan O'Brien and his sire was Galileo, you'd be jumping all over him. Frankel owes his rating to a 10-length beating of Klammer in the Royal Lodge Stakes, and I'm far from convinced that was a superior performance.”
But Tester warned that Dream Ahead's physical precocity last year would make it hard for Dream Ahead to maintain his rating. At the same time, he reckoned Frankel too short at 5-4 for the 2,000 Guineas.
“We're all hoping he's the real deal,” he said. “But we've seen a certain fragility in him, too.”
He commended Wootton Bassett as better value at 16-1. And in the Tester notebook? Well, Carlton House had impressed in a Newbury maiden; and an unbeaten filly named Zoowraa.
“But this is not a year of dark horses,” he stressed. “The touchstone will be Frankel.”