Flat racing enters its final month on turf with an increasingly leaden gait. The ground is deteriorating, and the regal card at Newmarket next Saturday stands alone like Canute against an oozing tide of mediocrity. Today the shift in tempo is marked by the inclusion in terrestrial coverage of jumping from the Welsh borders.
Yet perhaps the most significant Flat races of the year are still to be run, at the Breeders' Cup in Kentucky next month, and nothing at home holds anything like the same interest this weekend as Dylan Thomas's rehearsal against Bernardini, the American champion, in New York.
In contrast to Giant's Causeway and Johannesburg, on pedigree Dylan Thomas is no better qualified than Galileo, Hawk Wing or Oratorio to transfer his top-class turf form to the dirt. Those three horses were wiped out in the Breeders' Cup Classic, which is why Aidan O'Brien is taking the precaution of letting Dylan Thomas sample the surface in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
The Classic might never have been on his agenda but for the fact that Hurricane Run, in the same ownership, had priority in the Breeders' Cup Turf. That situation has changed, as Hurricane Run now goes for the Champion Stakes at Newmarket, though the extra week's interval this year makes it feasible he could still go to Churchill Downs as well. In principle, however, some of the pressure has now come off Dylan Thomas when he tests the temperature against Bernardini - which is just as well, as it could hardly be hotter.
Bernardini is the outstanding colt to have emerged from the American wing of Sheikh Mohammed's racing empire, successively a runaway winner of the Preakness, Jim Dandy and Travers Stakes. In fact, his has become such a towering presence that only two other horses join issue in a race worth $750,000 (£401,000).
That is greatly to Dylan Thomas's advantage, as his new jockey should be able to steer him wide of the kickback and let him find a comfortable rhythm off the pace. It will then become a case of whether he can make any meaningful impression on Bernardini in the stretch, or simply flounder. Coral measure his task at 11-4, with the favourite 1-3.
Bernardini's principal rival from the West Coast, Lava Man, also warms up for Louisville, in the Goodwood Handicap at Santa Anita, while the Breeders' Cup Juvenile favourite, Circular Quay, takes his unbeaten record to the new Polytrack at Keeneland.
In that context, the domestic programme seems mundane indeed, though there are a couple of Group races at Ascot. Dylan Thomas showed his distaste for soft ground when managing to get himself beaten in the Autumn Stakes last season, when it was run at Salisbury. But Moudez (2.45) coped well with cut when making a striking debut at Newmarket, and the runner-up is unbeaten in two starts since. Caldra has runs on the board, but has had little time to recover from a big effort last week and will do well to repeat that form, given his busy season.
Both Invincible Force and Bodes Galaxy (1.10) should be suited by the drop in trip for the Willmot Dixon Cornwallis Stakes, with the latter likely to be better value after disappointing last time. He has had a break and his previous form is solid.
Best bet on the card, however, may be BEAU NASH (nap 2.10) in the Ladbrokes Handicap. He pulled clear with a well handicapped horse at Newbury last time and, though raised 4lb since, looks likely to find further improvement for this stiffer test. That cannot be said of some of his most obvious rivals, and an excellent draw is the icing on the cake.
There are also a couple of interesting bets over jumps, notably I Hear Thunder (next best 1.55) in the Blue Square Prices Handicap Chase at Chepstow. He lost his way last winter, a course-and-distance win having featured in his bright start to the campaign, and his trainer, Bob Buckler, seems to have his horses back in much better form. With Daryl Jacob good value for his 5lb claim, I Hear Thunder runs off a very fair weight here.
The energetic jumping of Pams Oak (3.25) should meanwhile put pressure on his rivals, who variously look vulnerable in stamina or fitness, when he returns to a more suitable distance in the Totesport Handicap Chase at Bangor.
Nap: Beau Nash (Ascot 2.10)
NB: I Hear Thunder (Chepstow 1.55)Reuse content