Helleborine returns but all eyes are on Aintree
She will slip under most radars, on the first day of Aintree, but the fact is that Helleborine’s discreet reappearance in Paris today represents the most significant moment to date in the nascent Flat season.
This filly is quoted around 8-1 to give Criquette Head-Maarek a fifth success in the Qipco 1,000 Guineas, and her trial in the Prix Imprudence at Maisons-Laffitte takes her trainer to very familiar territory.
Fillies trained by Head-Maarek have won this prize no fewer than 10 times, though it will be noted that two who failed to win — Hatoof and Special Duty — proceeded to win at Newmarket.
Having won her first three starts, Helleborine was narrowly thwarted by Misty For Me in the Prix Marcel Boussac on Arc day.
Those whose focus remains on Merseyside, meanwhile, can excise one of the more interesting outsiders from their Grand National calculations.
Our Monty — the scheduled mount of Katie Walsh, sister of Ruby, who rides The Midnight Club — is out of the race with an infection.
That guarantees Royal Rosa a run, with connections of Skippers Brig and Golden Kite hoping for further withdrawals before declarations are made this morning.
Skippers Brig beat one of the favourites, Ballabriggs, at Kelso last time and Nicky Richards notes that he would actually be 8lbs better off here.
“Nobody seems to have looked at the weights, nobody is talking about him, but that suits me,” the Greystoke trainer said.
“He’s in fantastic shape, has just come lovely in his coat, and I’m very happy with the horse.
“Dominic (Elsworth) came on Monday and schooled him over a couple of National fences, and he loved them. He seems to tick all the boxes, but you never know if they’ll stay.”
Ruby Walsh partners Denman, Big Buck’s and Zarkandar at Aintree today.
Meanwhile, those doubting Paul Hanagan's will to retain the jockeys' championship must surely have revised their opinion if in attendance at Beverley. With the new Flat campaign only a week old, it is perhaps ludicrously early to assess the credentials of those protagonists bidding to be crowned top rider in the land.
Current incumbent Hanagan has begun the campaign with serious intent, however, and illustrated the point in bruising circumstances.
The 30-year-old required much soul-searching to even take the mount on Rowan Lodge after being dumped on the floor when going to post for the Welcome Back To Beverley Selling Stakes.
A sheepish-looking Hanagan suffered a minor wrist injury in the melee, but bravely stayed loyal to be rewarded with a 10th success of the season.
“Paul was very close to not riding,” admitted trainer Ollie Pears.
There was added commotion before the Racing UK On Sky 432 Maiden when Hanagan and Micky Fenton, rider of Red Tyke, were hurled to the floor before the race.
Both jockeys escaped uninjured, but Hanagan was this time denied as One Kool Dude succumbed to Lily's Angel.