Racing: Oratorio can bring down curtain on trainers' title race

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The Independent Online

For those who attend the blasted heath there are three Group races not even on television. The screened events include the race which gives horses a stitch, the Cesarewitch, as well as two Group Ones which could provide horse-of-the-year honours.

It is also likely to be a day which provides a human champion. Such is the prize-money sloshing around that victory in any of the main races for either Sir Michael Stoute or Aidan O'Brien could determine who will win the trainers' title.

The two men collide in the Champion Stakes itself, in which Stoute saddles three runners, while O'Brien is represented by a colt probably better than all three of the Freemason Lodge horses put together.

Oratorio (next best 3.10) is the name of the beast trying to give the Ballydoyle trainer his second success in this contest following Rock Of Gibraltar four years ago on ground which has already proved to his liking. The Irish Champion Stakes winner has a fair number ranged against him, including four French musketeers, but he is one of the few who arrives with this race specifically in mind. Others are dragging their satchels from examinations at the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe meeting. It was in the Arc itself that Motivator, a horse twice defeated by Oratorio this season, ran such a creditable race. All the indicators point to Kieren Fallon's mount.

O'Brien has such a stranglehold on the 2006 2,000 Guineas that the first colts' Classic is probably unconscious. The great dilemma the Co Tipperary trainer faces today is whether to pitch into the Dewhurst Stakes the first or second ante-post favourite for the gallop up the Rowley Mile.

The suggestion seems to be, with the rains having visited Suffolk, that George Washington will be saved for another, dryer, day and Horatio Nelson will be asked to step into the breach. As his name implies, the latter is very close to hardy, and he exhibited his toughness when running away from Opera Cape in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardère on Arc day. Expect a similar forecast this time around.

"My horse goes into the race in good form, but it looks as if Aidan O'Brien has all the aces in the pack," Sylvester Kirk, Opera Cape's trainer, said. "When you take him on it's a bit like being stuck in the trenches. You're waiting for his army to reload and then see what they come at you with.

"In all honesty, Horatio Nelson beat us fairly and squarely in Paris last time. That makes you think Opera Cape might have a better chance if they run George Washington as we've not come up against him before. Then you hear he is supposed to be even better than Horatio Nelson.

"Opera Cape has come out of his run well and deserves his chance in another Group One. He won't mind if there's a bit of rain."

There is a sense of the passing of the seasons in the Cesarewitch as prominent parts are played by National Hunt trainers who have both tasted success in the grand old slog.

Nicky Henderson, who won the yomp two years ago with Landing Light, is represented by the favourite, Afrad, while Martin Pipe, the 15-times champion jumps trainer and twice winner of this race with Heros Fatal in 2000 and Miss Fara two years later, sends out three runners.

Almost ridiculously for a race which unravels over 2m2f, the draw is of particular significance in the Cesarewitch. No horse drawn lower than 17 has won in the last six years. Almost half the field can be discounted before battle commences.

The draw has been kind to Afrad, but the value about him has drained away as he trades around the 5-1 mark. It is better to get involved with a horse four times that price and one which has the beating of Afrad on one line of form.

SWIFT SAILOR (nap 3.45), unlike this meeting itself, does not do exactly what it says on his tin. He is not as fleet-footed as his name suggests. But he is a doughty stayer, who signalled the good times were back when collecting a conditions race at Pontefract last time. The four-year-old is in form, has a good draw and will relish the ground. That is more than enough.

Richard Edmondson

Nap: Swift Sailor (Newmarket 3.45)

NB: Oratorio

(Newmarket 3.10)