High hopes and trepidation mingle in this town, to which racing will return a week from now for the Craven meeting and its various trial races for the Guineas. Several trainers have lightly raced youngsters that might prove to have legitimate Classic aspirations but all are keen to avoid another dose of the virus that affected so many of them last summer and put dozens of local horses on the sidelines.
“We had a torrid time with it,” said Martyn Meade, whose 50-box Sefton Lodge yard on the Bury Road is close to Newmarket’s heart. “When I ran Ernststavroblofeld the second time, he seemed to be completely clear and everything but he ran a stinker and it can only be the virus. It was one of those things that didn’t show up on the blood tests, didn’t show up on a scope and the only thing you can put it down to is a low-grade infection.
“The problem is that here, it’s such a close community. Up on the heath, you can be breathing it in. Once it starts, it just gets round so quickly. So one has to be very vigilant about that and we are, with everything. I mean, disinfectant every day, I’m pretty strict about the clothing and things like that and how we deal with the hygiene of the saddles and the girths and everything.
“Even so, it’s very difficult because a lot of it’s airborne anyway. But you’ve got to try. A lot of people say, well you can’t do anything about it, if it comes, it comes and you just ride through it and reach the other side. I just find that a bit negative. It’s much better to actually try and do something.”
One of those somethings takes the form of a salt chamber Meade has installed at the yard, believed to be one of just two in the town . While it does nothing to prevent infection, a few spells in the chamber can assist a horse in his recovery, or so the theory goes.
The 69-year-old Meade, who has made significant progress each year since moving to Newmarket from Wiltshire in 2014, hopes he will have little need for said chamber this year and certainly not for Eminent. A son of Frankel and the winner of his only race as a juvenile last year, Eminent will run here next week as Meade ponders whether he might be a Guineas horse or a Derby horse, or both or neither.
“He is a difficult horse to assess at home, insofar as he covers the ground so wonderfully, so he doesn’t actually look as if he’s going terribly quick. But he just lollops and lollops and lollops …
“It took a bit of time to get himself organised and then as they hit The Dip and came out of that, there was really no stopping him. From our point of view, at this stage, he could be anything.”
A few rival trainers in this town may be wincing at those words, as Eminent was led out of the local sales ring unsold in the autumn of 2015, allowing Meade to get what was surely a bargain by approaching the vendor moments later. “He was a very gangly baby, backward. He has been disparagingly referred to as a bumper horse, by Lord Grimthorpe. I’m sure he only meant it in jest.”
Meade’s instinct is that Eminent is going to be best suited by longer races than the mile of the Guineas and that he could make up into a Derby contender two months from now. “I can only go by his run and he was difficult to pull up.
“It’s a pity we haven’t got the only Frankel. They all do look pretty good, don’t they? How many Frankels are going to run in the Guineas? It could be three or four. We’ve just got to hope that ours is the best or has been best prepared for the day.”