Champions Day at Newmarket lost one of its potential champions yesterday, when the name of Dubai Destination failed to appear among the final eight declarations for tomorrow's Dewhurst Stakes. Godolphin's best two-year-old has suffered a "slight setback", and his absence on the Rowley Mile will leave the way clear for Aidan O'Brien to add another Group One event to his already immense collection.
O'Brien will saddle half of the eight runners in the Dewhurst, which is the traditional pinnacle of the European juvenile campaign, including Rock Of Gibraltar, the Grand Criterium winner, who seems sure to start favourite in the absence of Dubai Destination.
In the Champion Stakes, meanwhile, for which there were 13 final declarations yesterday, O'Brien will rely on just two runners, Hawkeye and Beckett. His prize-money total for the British season, which is a fraction more than £3 million, is already a record, beating the mark of £2,963,712 set last season by Sir Michael Stoute.
A big-race double at Headquarters tomorrow, when the first prizes alone will amount to £375,000, would put him within touching distance of £3.5m.
Among the runners removed from the Champion Stakes yesterday was Stoute's Tough Speed, who was added to the race at a cost of £24,000 only a few days ago. He will now run instead in the Challenge Stakes on the same card, with his trainer relying on No Excuse Needed and Carnival Dancer in the Champion, while Godolphin confirmed three of their four original entries, Tobougg, Best Of The Bests and Equerry.
The card at Newmarket this afternoon is much the poorer for the course's decision to condense all of the meeting's best races into a single afternoon tomorrow, though you will hear no complaints from the owner of the first horse home in the Tattersalls Autumn Auction Stakes. This is the latest in a series of valuable races restricted to graduates of the yearling bloodstock sales, and a maximum field of 30 goes to post in pursuit of a first prize of almost £60,000.
There are rarely more than a handful of decent performers in these events, though, and the field can be narrowed down fairly quickly to a shortlist on which Pentecost, Protectorate and Racing Bailey's are the leading names. Pentecost (2.55), who ran well to finish seventh in the Two-Year-Old Trophy at Redcar and is visored for the first time, could be the one to back.
The Darley Stakes has a far smaller field than the juvenile race, but arguably several more runners with sound claims on form. Duck Row and Smirk, third and fourth in the Cambridgeshire over the same course and distance two weeks ago, will both have their supporters, and Duck Row, who is 11lb better off today and beat Smirk by half a length, looks to have an excellent chance at the weights. He may need a big field to show his best form, though, while Smirk clearly failed to see out the nine-furlong trip a fortnight ago.
LAGUDIN (nap 1.50), on the other hand, has done well for a step up in trip to 10 furlongs, but while it is a slight worry that he drops back a furlong today, his defeat of Aldebaran at Doncaster last month gives him every chance in today's company.
In the Bentinck Stakes there is no shortage of sprinters who may now be feeling the effects of a busy season. Welcome Friend (next best 3.25) is one of those who has had a relatively easy time, with just seven outings so far, and while his success in a Listed event at Newbury last month came over seven furlongs, he has winning form over today's six as well.
CHAMPION STAKES (1m2f, Newmarket, tomorrow) Latest betting: Coral: 3-1 Nayef (from 100-30), 6-1 Best Of The Bests, Tobougg, Carnival Dancer (from 7-1), 7-1 Equerry, 8-1 No Excuse Needed, 10-1 Albarahin, Beckett, Hawkeye, 16-1 Distant Music, 25-1 Chancellor, 50-1 Rebelline, 150-1 Indian Creek. Tote: 100-30 Nayef, 5-1 Carnival Dancer, 6-1 Best Of The Bests, 7-1 Equerry, Hawkeye, No Excuse Needed, 9-1 Tobougg, 12-1 Beckett, 16-1 Albarahin, 22-1 Distant Music, 25-1 Chancellor, 33-1 Rebelline, 66-1 Indian Creek.
DEWHURST STAKES (7f, Newmarket, tomorrow) Latest betting: Tote: 8-13 Rock Of Gibraltar, 11-4 Comfy, 6-1 Landseer, 10-1 Where Or When, 20-1 Tendulkar, 25-1 Parasol, 50-1 Shah Jehan, 250-1 Prince Tulum.