Racing: Forest setting for seasonal rites

Flat offers up final Classic clues while Marlborough prevails in clash of top chasers

There is a jolly, tum-ti-tum horsey lay with a rhythm redolent of galloping hoofbeats that could have been written for a day like yesterday, the afternoon which traditionally marks the crossroads of the seasons. Sure, Flat racing in Britain now carries on all year round, and the Melbourne Cup and valuable Far Eastern festivals are still to come, while the jumpers no longer have a summer break. But with the end of term at Newmarket and a Grand National winner in action at Wetherby, the domestic emphasis has finally shifted.

There is a jolly, tum-ti-tum horsey lay with a rhythm redolent of galloping hoofbeats that could have been written for a day like yesterday, the afternoon which traditionally marks the crossroads of the seasons. Sure, Flat racing in Britain now carries on all year round, and the Melbourne Cup and valuable Far Eastern festivals are still to come, while the jumpers no longer have a summer break. But with the end of term at Newmarket and a Grand National winner in action at Wetherby, the domestic emphasis has finally shifted.

A damp, gunmetal sky and flashes of copper and bronze from the few still-clothed trees beyond the Devil's Dyke, the ancient earthwork away across the training grounds, formed the backdrop to the last rites on the Rowley Mile. The next time horses gather in anger here the 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas will be only weeks away, but any clues to the future yesterday were more likely to concern longer and later Classics. In recent years the Zetland Stakes has produced two St Leger winners, Bob's Return and Silver Patriarch, and although the latest winner of the 10-furlong test for two-year-olds, Forest Magic, hardly accomplished his task in straightforward style, he seems a young stayer with a future.

Not for the first time the colt, trained locally by Paul d'Arcy, veered left under pressure in the final furlong. He was travelling as fast sideways as forwards at one stage, but the running rail halted his deviation, and once his rider, John Egan, put him back on an even keel, he found plenty enough to rally past Allergy by a length. The Queen's filly had defeated the subsequent Racing Post Trophy third, Illustrator, on her previous outing and the pair were six lengths clear, so the form looks solid enough.

"He gives me heart failure when he wanders like that," said D'Arcy, "but it is just greenness. He has been a big baby from day one."

For all Forest Magic's promise, the best youngster in action was undoubtedly Dalakhani, who took his unbeaten run to three in the penultimate Group One contest of the European year, the Critérium International at Saint-Cloud. The Aga Khan's colourbearer, a Darshaan half-brother to Daylami, thwarted the Ballydoyle representative, Chevalier, by a hard-fought neck in atrocious conditions, with the Paul Cole-trained Governor Brown, previously unplaced in the Dewhurst Stakes, five lengths behind in third. Dalakhani is second favourite for the Derby in most lists, but his trainer, Alain de Royer Dupré, remains unenthusiastic about Epsom. "He is a horse who takes time to get balanced," he said.

To paraphase Will Ogilvie's poem, Sadler's sons and Woodman's daughters are now off to winter quarters. From now on it will be " the limber lean-of-head ones, hardy, hefty humble-bred ones" who demand our attention. And the promise of what is to come hung tantalisingly in the air at Wetherby as eight high-class steeplechasers, veterans of 202 jump starts between them, assembled at the start for the Charlie Hall Chase, the first signpost to Cheltenham in March.

Marlborough, winner of the ersatz Gold Cup at Sandown last year and fourth in the real thing at Cheltenham eight months ago after a campaign truncated by surgery, put his career back on track with a defeat of Hussard Collonges and Gingembre in a race that turned on an incident at the sixth fence. Last season's Hennessy Gold Cup winner and Grand National runner-up, What's Up Boys, in second behind Grey Abbey, came down, badly hampering Marlborough and seeming to distract Lord Noelie, who also fell.

Mick Fitzgerald did exceptionally well to stay aboard the Nick Henderson-trained winner and thereafter rode a patient race as Grey Abbey, Hussard Collonges and Whitenzo kept up a strong gallop in front, before letting his class take him to the front by the final obstacle. At the line the 10-year-old had two lengths to spare from Hussard Collonges. Gingembre, sidelined through injury since winning the Scottish National 560 days previously, was a neck behind.

"I thought it was goodnight at the sixth," said Fitzgerald, "but luckily I managed to stay one leg each side. I didn't want to rush him too much but I had to fire him down the back to make my ground and then sit and wait, give him a breather. But coming into the straight I've said, 'Let's go', and he's done very well to win."

The track's other Grade Two contest, the West Yorkshire Hurdle, produced a double for Marlborough's owner, Sir Robert Ogden, when Brother Joe easily thwarted Irish raider Boss Doyle's bid for a hat-trick in the race to provide some compensation for Lord Noelie's rider, Jim Culloty. The Grand National winner, Bindaree, began the defence of his Aintree title in last place.

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