Fight Your Corner pulls no punches

Autumn Stakes winner brings up century for Johnston and kindles Derby dreams

Events progressed infinitely more benignly here yesterday than they had done 12 months ago, when storm and tempest, actual and metaphorical, lashed proceedings, as the uplifting sight of a young Classic contender defying the elements with his raw potential was followed almost immediately by the abandonment of the meeting because of a bomb scare. Racegoers at this year's fixture basked in the slanting, Indian summer sunshine and bookmakers' lists remained unscorched.

Events progressed infinitely more benignly here yesterday than they had done 12 months ago, when storm and tempest, actual and metaphorical, lashed proceedings, as the uplifting sight of a young Classic contender defying the elements with his raw potential was followed almost immediately by the abandonment of the meeting because of a bomb scare. Racegoers at this year's fixture basked in the slanting, Indian summer sunshine and bookmakers' lists remained unscorched.

It was Nayef's six-length romp through the mud in the Autumn Stakes, a mile contest for juveniles that has a reputation for producing smart types – other recent winners have included Presenting, Beauchamp King, Dr Fong and Daliapour – that had the layers' collective knickers in a twist last year, but there was barely a flicker yesterday after Fight Your Corner had trounced his field by five lengths on puddingy ground, with the Tote offering a token 40-1 for next season's Derby.

Though he lacks the blue-blooded aura of a Nayef, Fight Your Corner, whose victory brought up an eighth successive century for his trainer, Mark Johnston, is a tough, thoroughly honest colt who has now won three of his five races. He has improved markedly since stepping up to a mile and drew away to account for Coshocton and Assaaf, two previously unbeaten youngsters from big Newmarket yards. The winning rider, Kevin Darley, said: "As soon as I asked him he picked up quickly and that's when he did the damage to the others."

Fight Your Corner has given his veteran owner-breeder Robert Kennedy a Derby dream for the winter. "He is such a scopey horse that we thought that anything he did this year would be a bonus," said Johnston's wife and assistant, Deirdre. "He will be something nice to think about for next year."

Nayef, so disappointing in the spring after a winter of hype, has won three Group Three races in a row after a summer break and will be given his chance for Group One glory in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday. With his owner Hamdan Al Maktoum 's Arc winner Sakhee now diverted to the Breeders' Cup as part of the Godolphin team, Nayef was confirmed yesterday by his trainer, Marcus Tregoning, as part of a two-pronged attack, along with last weekend's Longchamp Group Two winner Albarahin on the Newmarket showpiece. "Nayef is climbing the ladder again," said Tregoning, "and we are very pleased with his progress. Albarahin deserves to take his chance, too, and will not be running as a pacemaker."

Albarahin was supplemented at a cost of £24,000, as was the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Tough Speed, whose latest victim, China Visit, was another Longchamp Group Two winner eight days ago and contests the Group One Prix de la Forêt back in Paris this afternoon.

Although Sheikh Hamdan's only Ascot runner, Ranin, was beaten, it was an excellent afternoon for two of his young stallions. Muhtarram, who won two Prince of Wales's Stakes in his colours, is sire of Fight Your Corner and Dominica, the Tregoning-trained winner of the Cornwallis Stakes, provided a first Group winner for his former two-year-old champion, Alhaarth.

Dominica, owned and bred by the Kennard family, showed an excellent attitude to take the five-furlong Group Three juvenile contest, quickening well from the front to beat well-backed favourite Berk The Jerk by a length and three-quarters. "She's been more than useful from day one," said Tregoning, "but she's a late foal, so we've given her time. She's very easy to train and, although she has speed to burn, she has a wonderful temperament. Some of her rivals today were getting a bit jazzed up in the paddock, like sprinters do, but she was just walking round chatting to the crowd."

The other Group Three race on the card, the Princess Royal Stakes, provides a late-season consolation prize of the Pattern-race victory that is so important for a future broodmare. Neil Jones's Head In The Clouds, a sister to last year's St Leger winner Millenary, had the wrapping paper off this renewal early in the straight, with none of her rivals able to peg back her clear advantage. "She loves to be allowed to lead and she loves soft ground, and she had both today," said her trainer, John Dunlop.

In the closing 10-furlong handicap, Golden Wells made it 101 for the year for the Johnston stable and a double on the day for Darley, bringing the gap between him and Kieren Fallon, who starts a five-day suspension tomorrow, down to 15 in the race for the jockeys' title, with four weeks to go.

As Flat racing starts to wind down, a reminder of the jumps season to come takes place in the Czech Republic this afternoon with the Velka Pardubicka, the legendary, gruelling, four-and-a-quarter mile cross-country marathon. Local hero Peruan, the winner for the past three years, tries again at the age of 13. Three boldly go from Britain: Ferdy Murphy's 1996 runner-up Irish Stamp, Supreme Charm (Kim Bailey) and Frileux Royal (Tom George).

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