Racing: Khassah to take shine off Dazzle

The winning post at the end of the July Course will be the most obvious marker at Newmarket today, but by no means the only one. For many racegoers, there will be a mental milestone too, placed at the point where, with four Classics and Royal Ascot already behind, the first half of a Flat season has finished and the second can begin.

The July meeting at Headquarters brings more than just a change of mood. The cast list too will reflect the advancing campaign, as horses which have been with us since April start to drop away, and the Pattern cycle for two-year-olds is set in motion. From now on, the winners of good juvenile events will have two prices - the one they started at and the derisory one on offer for the 1997 Guineas, all of nine months distant. Smart punters, as ever, will back them at the former and ignore the latter.

Indeed, this year the process has started even in advance of the Cherry Hinton Stakes, today's valuable contest for two-year-old fillies, with Ladbrokes quoting Dazzle, who is expected to start favourite today, at 20-1 for next year's 1,000 Guineas. Khassah, perhaps her most serious opponent today, is 25-1 for the same Classic.

For Khassah's trainer, John Gosden, the second half of the season cannot start too soon. The opening months of the campaign have generally been miserable ones for Gosden, but when Shantou ran third in the Derby it announced that some form was returning to his string, and his strike-rate over the last fortnight has been almost 25 per cent.

Khassah (next best 3.05) should improve Gosden's percentage still further today, for while Dazzle may have won Royal Ascot's Windsor Castle Stakes on her racecourse debut, it was hardly the strongest juvenile event of the week and Khassah's successful introduction at the Heath meeting was every bit as impressive. The filly looked outstanding both in the paddock and on the way to post, and even more so on the way back as she comfortably put two lengths between herself and her field. With three unbeaten runners in today's race (Peter Chapple-Hyam's Ocean Ridge is the other) this could be a very significant contest, and Khassah should emerge with her record intact.

Chapple-Hyam chose the maiden which opens today's card to introduce Colonel Collins three years ago, while last year the finish was fought out by Alhaarth and Mark Of Esteem. Although the big Newmarket yards are not represented today, this should again be a maiden worthy of the closest scrutiny, even if it is a non-starter for betting purposes.

Whatever the fate of Chapple-Hyam's debutant, Equal Rights, in this race, the Manton trainer stands every chance of collecting the card's most valuable event, the Princess of Wales's Stakes. While the purse is not quite the pounds 20m which might seem appropriate, ASTOR PLACE (nap 3.40) can still add a worthwhile sum to his handler's prize-money total and strike a blow for the Classic generation in the process.

Though he has won just a single, very weak, race so far this season, Astor Place ran much better in the Prix du Jockey-Club (French Derby) than his eighth placing might suggest. In receipt of almost a stone from the likely market leaders, Bequeath and Singspiel, his chance is far stronger than his odds might indicate.

A maximum field of 20 will go to post for the one-mile handicap, but this is perhaps not so competitive a race as it appears and may take rather less solving than the nine-runner rated handicap later on the card. Ninia, Saifan, Crown Court and Charlie Chang are the ones for the short-list, with Ninia (2.35), now reunited with Jason Weaver, the probable winner. The rated handicap is far more problematic, and Galine is little more than a grope in the dark.