If they had got the cream, then the Eagle Star Farm cats had swallowed it sour. The Sharifa filly, sired by the Black with Eclipse as her maternal grandsire was one of the best bred horses on the farm…

But that was about as far as her merits went, Rob Walker thought bitterly.

They were already five weeks into the new year and Sharifa's filly, now a two-year-old, had grown barely an inch in the six months she'd been in their sole ownership.

Rob pulled an anguished face as he watched the horses flash by the gate, their work-riders crouching low over their saddles, holding their mounts to a breeze.

"One, two, three, four," Rob slowly counted the seconds beneath his breath. He stopped as the tiny chestnut filly hurtled past in pursuit of her stablemates. He shook his head.

"Not what you were hoping for, Rob?" A voice behind him startled him and he spun round.

"John! Man, I didn't hear you coming," he addressed Eagle Star Farm's owner while placing a large calming hand over his chest.

John McIntyre's face, lined with age but preserved by a lifetime indoors in board meetings attempted a smile.

"You haven't said much about Sharifa's filly lately," he prompted.

"She's too small, boss," Rob replied with a shrug. "Her heart is in the right place but she can't keep up. Those three she was meant to be working with this morning are also two-year-olds and to be honest, they're nothing to write home about, but even they are faster than her."

They turned as the sound of the fillies returning after their work drifted across the early spring air towards them. Rob shifted the gate open for them and watched them jog through, steam rising off their rumps. His eyes followed Sharifa's filly. She was well put together, light on her feet and despite her golden blonde colouring, had the beautiful dished face of her sire, the Black. But that was where their similarities ended. The Black was a towering seventeen hands high, and even allowing for the weaker sex being smaller, Sharifa's filly was a pony. She wouldn't have looked out of place in a lead rein class.

"Sharifa won three Breeders' Cups during her career," John's grave voice interrupted his thoughts. "The Black is the greatest horse ever to set foot on a racetrack. This filly has to have inherited some of that speed."

"Well, if she has then we're going to have to wait until she's grown some before we can find out," Rob muttered. "She won't be running in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, never mind winning it like Sharifa did."

"I guess Hopeful Farm are going to have a head start on juvenile fillies this year then with that Prairie Wind filly," John frowned.

"Maybe, but we've still got over a year before the Kentucky Oaks. Let's hope this little Sharifa can gain a few inches in the meantime. Then we'll give them something to think about."