As promotional challenges go, there can be few more daunting tasks than to persuade any sane person that the miserable expanse of Newmarket Heath in mid-October is somewhere they might care to be. Backslaps all round, then, for the executives in charge of organising the first "Champions Day" card on the Rowley Mile, one of only two afternoons on the British turf - along with Derby day - when spectators can enjoy two Group One events. Add in the Cesarewitch, always one of the season's most popular handicaps, and suddenly even frostbite would seem a fair price to pay for a place in the stands.
For many punters, in fact, the Cesarewitch will be the day's most significant race, and all the more so thanks to the success of Pasternak in the Cambridgeshire, the first leg of the Autumn Double, two weeks ago. Not only was Pasternak backed down to 4-1 in one of the gambles of the season, but he also figures in plenty of doubles linked to leading contenders in today's second instalment.
Bookmakers sitting on serious liabilities will still reckon they have a fair chance of keeping the lot, however, since in the last 10 years alone, the Cesarewitch has been won at odds of 50-1, 33-1, 25-1 and 20- 1, and only Vintage Crop, who took a small fortune out of the ring in 1992, has inflicted serious pain. They will take no chances, though, with Top Cees, twice the Chester Cup winner, whose connections are not averse to a bet, while Henry Cecil's Canon Can, the Doncaster Cup winner, will also figure in most calculations.
Yet neither makes enormous appeal at relatively short odds. Top Cees was ideally suited by the very soft ground at Chester in May, while Canon Can could finish only third in this race last year from 22lb lower in the ratings. In any case, there are others in the field who appear more progressive. Mawared, who has not stopped improving since moving up to extreme trips, is one, but MOTET (nap 2.55), who is a year younger and has just eight starts to his name, may have even more scope. Geoff Wragg's runner was an easy winner over this trip and off the same mark at Folkestone last time, and is developing into a very useful stayer. An each-way alternative is Turnpole, who seems to have been laid out for the race by Mary Reveley, a winner with Old Red two years ago.
The bare form of the Champion Stakes appears to point to just one possible outcome. Desert King, who has deserted this race in favour of the Breeders' Cup Turf, has the beating of Benny The Dip and Loup Sauvage on the basis of the International Stakes and Irish Derby respectively, but was in turn humiliated by Pilsudski in the Irish Champion Stakes. Michael Stoute's runner, who then finished second to Peintre Celebre in the Arc, deserves to start favourite, but for even such a notably tough campaigner, 13 days may not be long enough to recover from Paris exertions.
It is not a chance worth taking, and the price against Loup Sauvage (next best 4.10) is better value. Andre Fabre - who is, of course, also the trainer of Peintre Celebre - has won the Champion Stakes twice in the last six years, and may have found the candidate - talented, lightly-raced and improving - to give him a third in seven.
Fabre also saddles a prime contender for the Dewhurst Stakes in Xaar, whose sire, Zafonic, won the same race in such style five years ago on his way to Classic success in the 2,000 Guineas. Like Zafonic, Xaar won the Group One Prix de la Salamandre at Longchamp last month, which is the best form on offer today, but still may struggle to beat Tamarisk (3.30). Roger Charlton's colt might appear to have much less to offer, but his win in the Houghton Sales Stakes over course and distance three weeks ago was deeply impressive and he can move towards the head of the 2,000 Guineas lists with another victory today.Reuse content