Racing: Rain smooths Dubawi's path to championship

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The Independent Online

For this, as the final top-level race in these parts over the distance open to all ages and sexes, is a contest that does as often as not. In the 18 years since it acquired Group One status, nine winners have headed the end-of-season mile rankings by dint of an assortment of performances. Mark Of Esteem, for instance, won his head-to-head against the outstanding filly Bosra Sham. For Dubawi's sire, Dubai Millennium, it was the finale to a set of imperial progresses. And Observatory did it by mugging the champion-elect Giant's Causeway.

This afternoon's 50th running is of the showdown variety. The three perceived best milers still standing - Dubawi, Rakti and Starcraft - face each other in a small but select field. There should be no hard-luck stories; the winner will take the crown.

Three-year-olds have outstandingly the best record against their elders, with 29 victories to date. Dubawi is the only representative of the Classic generation today and his record stands close inspection. He has been beaten only twice in his life, when fifth on firm ground he loathed in the Guineas, and when an excellent third out of his distance in the Derby. Alternating those runs, he has won twice at Group One level this year, a defeat of Oratorio in the Irish 2,000 Guineas in May and one of Whipper and Valixir in the Prix Jacques le Marois last month.

He will have the assistance of a pacemaker, Blatant, today, and of Frankie Dettori in the saddle. "It will be a tough race," said Bin Suroor yesterday, "but he is fit and well and has the class to win it. The ground, though, is important to him. We want it good or easier."

By 4.16 yesterday the going-stick reading by the winning post on the Rowley Mile was 8.2, which translates as good, and the rain, the slow, steady penetrating kind ideally suited to the irrigation of racecourses, was still falling. "It will have an impact, and slow the surface down," said the clerk of the course, Michael Prosser. "We drain well here but at this time of year, with colder air temperatures and the grass not so thirsty, the evapo-transpiration rates decline. But there should be something like 18 hours between the forecast end of the rain and the first race. The ground should be fair for all."

The defending champion, Rakti, prefers to hear his hooves rattle. He won his title last year on his first attempt at the distance, but has raced over none other this term. His comeback in the Lockinge Stakes was impressive but in retrospect a five-length defeat of Mac Love may have been more stylish than substantial and since then Valixir rolled him over in the Queen Anne Stakes. Rakti's athletic talent is undoubted but his mind is infamously mercurial and the pre-race crucible may prove his greatest test. He was only the third five-year-old to win the race when he did so last year, and no six-year-old has ever done so.

Starcraft, the powerhouse ex-Australian five-year-old now in the care of Luca Cumani, was only half a length behind Rakti at York on his northern hemisphere debut and 20 days ago took the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp in commanding fashion. He, too, appears to have a mental kink; the wobbly he threw before the Eclipse Stakes was not the first of his career. The so-called big three have won 26 races, including 13 Group Ones, between them and with respect to the improving pair Sleeping Indian and Mullins Bay, whose joint haul of seven numbers a Group Three apiece, it will be an anticlimax if one does not win. Dubawi (4.20) is taken to fulfil his owner's dream of his ill-fated favourite siring a champion son to carry on the line.

The canapes that precede the main dish on the card transferred from Ascot are succulent in themselves. Dettori has picked up a dream spare ride on Ouija Board (2.00) in the opener; if last year's Oaks winner is even half her former self she should beat these and the one for the forecast may be Alumni. The Fillies Mile is the outstanding guide to future distaff Classics and Alexandrova (3.05), a 10-length winner last time, can enhance her Oaks prospects. In the seven- furlong handicap Kenmore (3.40, nap) can atone for a disappointing effort last time.

Richard Edmondson

Nap: Ladalko (Market Rasen 3.15)

NB: Indian Pipe Dream (Haydock 2.30)