A magnificent morning in Newmarket was an ideal setting for a surprisingly chirpy and forthcoming Sir Michael Stoute, assuming centre stage at a media day held ahead of the July Festival next week.
HQ's senior trainer looked in rude health - something he's not been able to take for granted in recent years - as he gave generously of his time and knowledge to a group of journos unaccustomed to such soundbite largesse.
The master of Freemason Lodge has a small but select squad engaged for next week, headlined by Falmouth Stakes-bound Integral (pronounced 'In-teg-rule' by most present, bit I'm sticking with 'Inter-gruel'). Winner of the Duke Of Cambridge Stakes at Royal Ascot, Integral steps up from that Group 2 to Group 1 company for the first time since finishing a length second to Sky Lantern in the Sun Chariot Stakes last backend.
That's on the Friday, and before then Arab Spring is likely to run in the Princess Of Wales's Stakes on the opening day of the three day fixture. He won the huge field Duke Of Edinburgh Handicap in the manner of a Group horse, pulling away by a pair of lengths at the line. Arab Spring "keeps progressing" according to his trainer, and he may not need to find too much more than that Royal meeting performance to come out on top in a race Stoute has won nine times stretching all the way back to Shardari in 1986.
In Saturday's Bunbury Cup, the rejuvenated Sir Michael may well run Abseil. Winner of a decent Epsom handicap, Abseil ran well enough at Royal Ascot, and finished within five lengths of Field Of Dream there. The trainer is unconcerned by the step back in trip, feeling Abseil is equally adept at both seven furlongs and a mile, and he's another progressive-looking four-year-old from the grand-daddy of training older horses.
Possibles to supplement that July Festival trio are Idea, beaten far enough in the Britannia Stakes but well worth another try in a mile handicap; and, Bragging, for whom the ground may have been soft enough when second last time at Nottingham. She may head for a seven furlong fillies' handicap next Friday, and looks worth another try on fast ground.
Away from discussing his team for next week, Sir Michael proffered forth his opinions on a range of requested subjects.
Asked about his recent resurgence, he put it down simply to "having some nicer horses in the yard in the last couple of years". Looking at the ease with which this sometimes elusive character controlled his crease - in the company of his good friend, ex-West Indian cricket legend, Michael Holding - it would be hard not to suggest that the apparent rudeness of his health was also a factor.
Indeed, Sir Michael was playing his verbal shots with loose aplomb, scattering responses to every corner of the assembled hack pack.
On Ryan Moore, he was concise and unequivocal. "The best in the world right now", was his answer to how important the champion jockey is to the yard.
On his affection for the July Festival, "I thoroughly enjoy it, and not just because it's down the road. They put on great racing, and there's a very good atmosphere".
And, in closing, one horse to follow beyond next week might be Cannock Chase. Winner of his last three, most recently the Group 3 Tercentenary Stakes at Royal Ascot, the three-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid was mooted as a possible for the Gordon Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, or possibly the Prix Eugene Adam at Maisons-Lafitte. A noted trial for the St Leger, the Gordon is over a quarter mile further than the hat-trick was achieved, with the Leger being another quarter mile still.
Nevertheless, as a speculative wager for the fifth Classic, he looks worthy of a throwaway penny or two. Not quoted just now, keep an eye out for him. IF he stays, he'll be a runner. It's a fairly big 'if', but then he'll be a fairly big price when one of the books opens up.