Racehorses can make fools of anyone, so there will have been relief at Newmarket yesterday when the five-day entries for their newly-christened Champions Day card on Saturday indicated that the immodesty will go unpunished. The Dewhurst Stakes promises competition and information in equally large measures, the Champion Stakes too could yet be a contest to make a long trip for, while the Cesarewitch will as usual cater for racegoers who enjoy the surreal experience of betting on a two-and-a-quarter mile race and first spotting a horse with half a mile left to run.
It is the Dewhurst, though, which should add serious numbers to the gate, and ensure that the international Handicappers will not need to deliberate for too long when they meet to name the top two-year-old colt of 1997. Daggers Drawn, probably the best seen in Britain this year, and Xaar, perhaps the finest in France, will line up against Central Park, whose collateral form gives him the beating of Daggers Drawn, and Tamarisk, impressive winner of the Houghton Sales Stakes at the last Newmarket meeting.
Daggers Drawn was no better than workmanlike when winning the Champagne Stakes at the Doncaster St Leger meeting, but is still the clear Dewhurst favourite or joint favourite, with Xaar, in the lists of the leading bookmakers.
The contest also brings the best trainers on either side of the Channel into direct competition, and on recent Dewhurst form, it is Andre Fabre, who prepares Xaar, who will wake up in confident mood on Saturday morning. Henry Cecil, Daggers Drawn's trainer, has not won this race since 1982, while Fabre has saddled both Zafonic (1992) and Pennekamp (1994), both of whom returned to win the 2,000 Guineas.
This seems to be a welcome return to form for the Dewhurst, which over a five-year period between 1990 and 1994 was won by two subsequent Derby winners, two Guineas winners and a St James's Palace Stakes winner.
With two high-profile colts at the top of the market, meanwhile, there could be some value further down, and at this stage, the Tote's 7-1 against Tamarisk appears very fair. It cost pounds 18,000 to get Roger Charlton's runner into the race at the recent supplementary stage, although after his latest victory, in a bonus-laden event for graduates of the Houghton Sale, his owners are still comfortably in the black.
"The owners have picked up more than pounds 120,000 from his three races," Charlton said yesterday, "and there is more to be gained than lost by running him. The horse that wins will be the champion two-year-old, and to finish third or fourth is no disgrace in a race like that.
"The handicapper would probably have him six or seven pounds behind Xaar, five behind Central Park and three or four behind Henry Cecil's, so he needs to improve two or three lengths to win, but he's done everything we've asked of him and he hasn't had a hard race. We don't know what he'll produce when it's really required, but he's earned his place."
Saturday's second Group One race, the Champion Stakes, could be just as strongly contested as the Dewhurst, with Singspiel, Pilsudski and Benny The Dip among the five-day entries, but as yet only the Derby winner is a definite runner. "I'd strongly considered going to the Canadian International at Woodbine because it's a race he could win," John Gosden, Benny The Dip's trainer, said yesterday. "But the owner's rather keen to go to the Breeders' Cup and I didn't want to take a three-year-old, fly him out to Canada, bring him back and then turn him around in 12 days to send him off to California.'
Thirty four remain in the Cesarewitch, and the declaration of Canon Can, the Doncaster Cup winner, ensures there is no rise in the weights. The good news for punters is that all the prominent names in the ante-post market are still in the field.