Though the bulldozers are still busy at Doncaster - and it is difficult to imagine what they might do there that could not represent an improvement - the final Group One race of the British Flat season has a very familiar aspect. The Racing Post Trophy, which finds sanctuary at Newbury on Saturday, succinctly measures the present balance of power in two-year-old racing.
Once again, the Maktoums have a peripheral role. Once again, their lack of juvenile firepower is placed in uncomfortable context - by another colt home-bred by Juddmonte, Thousand Words; by another pair of youngsters somehow discovered by the remarkable Peter Chapple-Hyam; and above all by their customary nemesis, Aidan O'Brien at Ballydoyle.
His chief candidate is Eagle Mountain, whose progress from race to race appears to exemplify an increasing trend at Ballydoyle. The Rock Of Gibraltar colt was the stable's second string when running Teofilo to a head at the Curragh in August, and again went down narrowly when caught out by a test of speed at York next time. Stepped up to a mile, in testing ground, he finally blossomed with a seven-length Group Two success back at the Curragh last month, and looks ideally qualified for this race.
O'Brien meanwhile has a competent alternative in Admiralofthefleet, who also improved for a test of stamina when winning the Royal Lodge Stakes last month.
O'Brien has won the Racing Post Trophy four times since 1997, and would have made it five had Dylan Thomas not drowned in the mud last autumn. That colt went on to be beaten a head in the Derby before running away with the Irish version, while previous Ballydoyle winners include High Chaparral.
In other words, O'Brien considers this an important staging post on the road to the Classics. And that is as it should be. After all, four of the five British Classics are run by the first weekend in June. You can either "parachute" into Epsom with an inexperienced but exceptional colt - like Lammtarra - or recognise that the juvenile Pattern remains as integral as ever to a Classic campaign.
Consider the litany of outstanding three-year-olds since 2000 whose conditioning at two included Group One success in either the National Stakes (George Washington, Dubawi, Refuse To Bend, Hawk Wing, Sinndar) or the Dew-hurst (Sir Percy, Shamardal, Rock Of Gibraltar). Then there was Motivator, who won the Racing Post Trophy itself on his way to the Derby last year.
Clearly, Godolphin should be excused the late arrival of its two-year-olds this year, having been devastated by sickness in the spring. Juvenile racing has never been its priority, admittedly, despite various experiments with academies.
There are wild stories about the numbers in its care since their closure. One way or another, Godolphin's only Group One juvenile winners in Europe remain Medaaly, in the 1996 Racing Post Trophy, and Dubawi. And the bottom line is that the Maktoum family overall has recently been far more anonymous in juvenile racing than its investment should allow.
As it happens, Sheikh Mohammed has a Group One winner among the 23 acceptors for Saturday's race: Kirklees, whose trainer resourcefully sent him to Milan for the Gran Criterium only last weekend. Kirklees had previously been beaten in three starts at Group Two level in Britain.
Perhaps his best performance remains a third to Strategic Prince at Goodwood in the summer. The winner went on to take third in that vintage Dewhurst at Newmarket last Saturday, though it is the colt who finished second at Goodwood, Duke Of Marmalade, who volunteers himself loudest as a Classic contender for next year.
A member of Danehill's precious final crop, he was green that day, all at sea on the track, but would have won in another few yards. It is difficult to imagine Strategic Prince staying with him over the Rowley Mile. Duke Of Marmalade has been absent since with a pastern injury, but should certainly be back in the mix for the 2,000 Guineas, for which he looks fair value at 20-1. His trainer has a decent record with this type, too: fellow name of O'Brien.
* Top Irish jumps jockey Paul Carberry yesterday escaped being imprisoned for setting fire to a newspaper on board a flight home from Spain. He had been sentenced to two months jail in May but was freed pending an appeal. Dublin District Court yesterday put Carberry on probation and said that he must undertake voluntary work.
Nap: Memphis Man
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