And so the moment has finally arrived to bid farewell to the Rowley Mile at Newmarket for another six months or so, and as always, many racegoers will do so in the fervent hope that between now and the spring of 1998, someone will come along and build a proper racecourse in its place which actually gives spectators the chance to see what is happening.
Then again, when the contests are as difficult to fathom as some of the handicaps on this afternoon's card, it is sometimes far better to have little clue as to what is going on. The Ladbroke Autumn Handicap, the penultimate race of the season at Headquarters, is matched in terms of strength and competitiveness only by the seven-furlong event which will bring down the curtain half an hour later. Wetherby, however, takes things to the other extreme, with just 13 runners in three televised races, and seven of those in the juvenile hurdle. Thankfully, the third component of the afternoon, at Ascot, strikes a perfect balance.
The Newmarket card offers more than mere pinsticking, however, since two of the winners on the same day last year, Ali-Royal and Silver Patriarch, went on to record Group One victories during the current campaign (indeed, the latter would have been the Derby winner if his nose was a couple of inches longer). Silver Patriarch's win 12 months ago came in the Zetland Stakes, a 10-furlong Listed race for two-year-olds which has highlighted four excellent performers in just the last five years, with Bob's Return (1993 St Leger), Double Trigger (1995 Gold Cup) and Double Eclipse also among its winners.
The last two horses were both trained by Mark Johnston, who clearly likes this race, since today he saddles three of the seven runners.
"I wouldn't be running three horses if it wasn't the best opportunity for them as individuals," Johnston said yesterday. "because there are very few opportunities for two-year-olds who are potential top class stayers. Sinon has got to be the first string on form, but I'm not saying that St Helensfield won't beat him. They're all at very early stages of their careers so any one of them could emerge as the big hope."
Sinon's only outing to date should sound a warning for punters, since he started at 20-1 and comfortably beat a strong favourite - who was also trained by Johnston. This was a performance of some potential, though, and Sinon (3.10) is the one to be on today.
It will be a surprise if any of the runners in the Ben Marshall Stakes goes on to emulate Ali-Royal's success in the Sussex Stakes next season, but Samara (2.40) has solid form and will be a value alternative to Desert Beauty. The Ladbroke Handicap threw up a 33-1 winner 12 months ago and could well do so again, although there are several improving three-year- olds in the 28-strong field who may well be ahead of the handicapper. Desert Track will find plenty of support, as will Consort, but two solid alternatives are For Your Eyes Only and SILK ST JOHN (nap 3.45), who has run well from a bad draw on both his previous starts.
Storm Alert has won the United House Construction Chase at Ascot in three of the last four years, but it could be worth opposing him with Down The Fell (next best 2.30), who made a promising return over hurdles. Samlee (1.55) is another with a chance, but at Wetherby it is a watching brief only, with One Man sure to start at long odds-on to beat Barton Bank in the Charlie Hall Chase. The juvenile hurdle is also fascinating, but it is impossible to decide between Monarch's Pursuit, Amitge and Stoned Immaculate.
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