Sky Lantern: shoulders a 3lb penalty for her Group 1 win last yearPICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos)
Hannon hoping Lantern can shine in Nell Gwyn
WITH two and a half weeks until the first domestic Classics of the Flat season, a spate of dress rehearsals for the Qipco 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas spring into action on the opening day of the Craven meeting on Wednesday.
Taking centre stage are the fillies in the Lanwades Stud Nell Gwyn Stakes, headed by Group 1 winner Sky Lantern, who is currently a top-price 20-1 for the 1,000 Guineas and runs at Newmarket rather than in Saturday's Dubai Duty Free Stakes.
"We did not want to risk waiting for Newbury so we took a chance on the ground and opted for the Nell Gwyn - it seems we might get lucky," said Sky Lantern's trainer Richard Hannon, who also saddles outsider Light Up My Life in the 7f Group 3.
After winning the Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh last year, for which she shoulders a 3lb penalty on Wednesday, Sky Lantern suffered a luckless passage at the Breeders' Cup but has thrived over the winter according to Hannon.
The trainer added: "She did her best piece of work yet on Monday morning, so we could not be happier with her."
Although the clear form choice, she faces stiff competition from the likes of Cheveley Park Stakes runner-up Winning Express and Rockfel Stakes second Nargys, as well the unexposed Hot Snap, hailing from the powerful Sir Henry Cecil yard.
Five Qipco 2,000 Guineas outsiders feature among a field of ten for the CSP European Free Handicap, that last went to a Classic winner ten years ago when Indian Haven followed up in the Irish 2,000 Guineas.
Mark Johnston: runs Heavy MetalPICTURE: Edward Whitaker
Mark Johnston, who won the 2,000 Guineas with Mister Baileys in 1994, saddles Heavy Metal, who is very much on target for the May 4 Classic according to his trainer.
Johnston said: "He's Guineas-bound hopefully but there's some uncertainty as to whether he'll stay, so I've diverted from usual policy by running him in a trial first. This looked a better option than the Craven at declaration time, but I'm not so sure now."
Last year's Richmond Stakes winner is a general 66-1 shot to spring a shock in the Guineas.
Trainers can have no complaints about the ground at Newmarket after clerk of the course Michael Prosser altered the going description to good on Tuesday.
He said: "We missed the showers this morning and we have had some nice sunny spells, it has also been breezy.
"That is pretty much what we can expect for the next couple of days: mild and breezy with the possibility of a light isolated shower."
The conditions are set to be enjoyed first by Qipco 1,000 Guineas favourite Just The Judge, who is due to work up the Rowley Mile before racing for trainer Charlie Hills.
At Cheltenham, also hosting the first day of a two-day fixture, clerk of the course Simon Claisse said on Tuesday: "We remain good to soft, good in places after a dry and warm day. We may get a little light shower in the morning, but otherwise it will be a dry and warm day."