Nayef gets the nod as Champion favourite

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The Independent Online

Sometimes you feel you need the skills of a Cold War Kremlinologist to read the mind of Aidan O'Brien, the champion trainer-elect. No Group One race for juveniles is complete these days unless at least 50 per cent of the five-day entries are from Ballydoyle, and yesterday O'Brien duly declared nine colts, including Johannesburg, Rock Of Gibraltar and Landseer, for Saturday's Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket. Even long-term analysts of O'Brien's decision-making, though, were surprised to find the name of Galileo, the Derby and King George winner, among the 18 horses left in the field for the Champion Stakes.

Galileo's final mission of the year had long been thought to be the Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park on 27 October, and a spokesman for Ballydoyle confirmed last night that this, rather than a trip to Newmarket, remains the plan. O'Brien's desire to keep his options open borders on obsession, however, and these are times to expect the unexpected. Costly though it is, the Champion entry for Galileo is no more than an insurance policy.

Assuming that the Derby winner and Johannesburg – an intended runner in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile – travel to America as planned, O'Brien's challengers for the Champion Stakes are expected to be Beckett, who won the Listed Joel Stakes over a mile at Newmarket this month, and Hawkeye. In the Dewhurst, Rock Of Gibraltar is expected to face a rematch with Dubai Destination, who beat him with something to spare in Doncaster's Champagne Stakes last month.

Rock Of Gibraltar has since run away with the Grand Criterium at Longchamp, and will be 4lb better off with Dubai Destination this time. The winner will probably sit at the top of the 2,000 Guineas betting for the next four or five months, and the Irish bookies Cashman's, who opened a market on the Dewhurst yesterday, makes Dubai Destination only a narrow favourite at 6-4, with Rock Of Gibraltar on 7-4.

Coral have opened a book on the Champion Stakes, although finding a favourite was not an easy task. "It's a difficult race," Simon Clare, the firm's spokesman, said yesterday, "because half of the horses won't run if it's soft, and the other half probably won't run if it's fast." In the end, the firm opted for Nayef, last year's winter favourite for the Guineas, at 5-1, on the basis that "we know he's on target and the ground shouldn't be a problem." Next in the list are Best Of The Bests, Grandera and Tobougg, who are on 6-1, while Carnival Dancer is 7-1 and Equerry and No Excuse Needed are a point bigger.

This is a race to leave alone until later in the week, since Godolphin, who are responsible for Best Of The Bests, Tobougg, Equerry and Ekraar, are unlikely to run all four, while the going will decide whether Sir Michael Stoute sends No Excuse Needed, who likes it fast, to the Breeders' Cup instead. Tough Speed, one of his other entries, also has an alternative in the Challenge Stakes on the same card. Nice One Clare and Atavus, both of them big handicap winners this year, are also among the Challenge entries.

Alleluia, hot favourite for the Cesarewitch, was eased to 11-4 with a run by the Tote, who sponsor the event, after 43 horses were declared yesterday. The filly's owners have yet to decide whether to run her in that race, in which she has a 19lb lower mark than in future handicaps, or in the Jockey Club Cup, a Group Three contest on the same card.

Champion Stakes (Coral): 5-1 Nayef, 6-1 Best Of The Bests, Grandera, Tobougg, 7-1 Carnival Dancer, 8-1 Equerry, No Excuse Needed, 10-1 Beckett, Hawkeye, Tough Speed, 14-1 Ekraar, Albarahin, 16-1 others.

Cesarewitch (Tote): 11-4 Alleluia (with a run), 6-1 Taffrail, 10-1 Heros Fatal, Barba Papa, 11-1 Cover Up, 12-1 Brother Joe, 14-1 others.

* Tomorrow's card at Haydock has been abandoned due to waterlogging. Races on Lingfield's round course are also threatened and an inspection will be held at 8.30am today.

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