The rules of the generation game seem to have changed in recent seasons, but segregation ends at York today when an outstanding middle-distance three-year-old finally mingles with his seniors in the Juddmonte International Stakes. None was prepared to tackle Hurricane Run at Ascot last month, and previously Aussie Rules had offered only faintly credible opposition to David Junior in the Eclipse Stakes. But today Dylan Thomas measures his exalted status among contemporaries, if not against the very best older horses, then at least against some trustworthy yardsticks.
The international autumn calendar has unquestionably diluted the midsummer programme over 10 and 12 furlongs. Trainers increasingly feel that a young horse - excepting a teak freak like Giant's Causeway - cannot stretch from the spring classic trials all the way into autumn without some kind of hiatus. The first skirmishes between generations have been delayed as a result, and it might be said that today Dylan Thomas effectively begins the concluding cycle of the Flat season.
His standing certainly grew dramatically during its opening phase. When he won the Derrinstown Derby Trial on his reappearance - apparently flat out, testily flashing his tail - it seemed unlikely that he would forge another link in that race's golden chain, following Alamshar, Galileo, High Chapparal and Sinndar. But he was caught only in the final stride of the Derby, and was a revelation in the Irish version, ridden more patiently before bursting clear.
If anything, a return to this distance will suit better and he clearly sets a formidable standard in receipt of weight-for-age against relatively exposed rivals. There are grounds for concern, however - quite literally.
All his improvement has been on firm going and conditions now will be a good deal slower. Moreover the capricious behaviour of this track in particular, whenever the ground changes, heightens anxiety for anyone tempted by the hot favourite. Too often York conceals a mysterious, attritional bias towards front-runners.
With an each-way dividend paid on three of the eight, it may instead pay to side with one of his mature rivals. Cherry Mix could easily enjoy the run of the race, while Enforcer has already played an honourable supporting role in many of the summer's top races. He could prove even more effective dropped back to this distance, but is entitled to recoil from his tough schedule sooner or later.
In contrast Laverock (3.25) has had a light campaign and his Group One defeat of Manduro at Longchamp in May looks solid form. He can be excused both defeats since, one at the hands of Pride and Hurricane Run over a trip that stretches his stamina, the other in a falsely-run race. Beaten under a length by Shamardal and Hurricane Run in the Prix du Jockey Club last year, he looks too big at 14-1.
A vintage edition of the Ladbrokes Great Voltigeur Stakes features two colts, both trained by Sir Michael Stoute, that might have been tempting in the big race itself. Yet they will not necessarily be equal to this assignment. Stage Gift looked as though he must have been declared for the wrong race when bolting up in a handicap on Derby day, but has since had a setback and, up in trip after a lay-off, must prove his stamina against what seems certain to be a searching gallop.
Papal Bull is as talented as any three-year-old in the land, and the choice of this traditional St Leger trial suggests that his owners' strong hand at Ballydoyle may condemn him to a programme that does not play to his strengths - he is no mere slogger, be sure of that. But he is an unknown quantity on easy ground, and his lazy style could make him vulnerable if the track starts playing up again. The unyielding front-runner Soapy Danger (2.50) may not be the most able colt in the race, but Kevin Darley's mount may prove best equipped for its particular demands.
The Weatherbys Insurance Lonsdale Cup shows how pedestrian the staying division would look without Yeats, whose absence leaves this prize to a rabble beaten out of sight at Goodwood earlier in the month. Bulwark (2.15) was beaten further than most, but his ego will not be so tender among this lot and he might be worth chancing at big odds.
A more confident recommendation is LONDON EXPRESS (nap 1.45). This will be the easiest ground he has encountered since winning by eight lengths at Pontefract in the spring, and he has repeatedly indicated that he remains fairly treated off a mark just 5lb higher. A strong finish from off the pace at Goodwood suggested that a more positive ride and a demanding course would suit ideally.
Nap: London Express (York 1.45)
NB: Vitznau (York 4.35)