Chris McGrath: Frankel, Cecil and Co offer dream cast worthy of Champions' Day
Saturday 16 October 2010
Very well. For the moment, at least, let's just leave it. Purely out of respect for the horses, and the men around them.
It's true that many of those sampling the sport's purest elixir at Newmarket today will find it diluted by flavours of anger and bitterness. True that cold shadows fall across the thrilling vistas opened up by what looks the best two-year-old race of recent seasons.
But there's not a lot we can do about that now. So let's have one, last valedictory embrace before the train leaves. And not depress ourselves further over the misappropriation of the Emirates Airline Champion Stakes, which will be staged at Ascot next year. Or the fact that the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes showdown between Frankel, 10-length winner of the Royal Lodge, and Dream Ahead, nine-length winner of the Middle Park, could never happen again. (In future, betrayed by a marketing vision that contrives to be at once glib and outrageous, the Middle Park will be staged on the same card as the Dewhurst.) Let's simply be glad that the horses, on the final Champions' Day at Newmarket, are going to give us something to remember it by.
And, above all, let's celebrate the advent of Frankel, a colt who invokes the genius of two genuine masters of the modern Turf. He was named in honour of Bobby Frankel, who died last year; and is trained by Henry Cecil, whose professional resurrection has coincided with a courageous battle against the same illness that claimed Frankel.
Perhaps the most precious service Frankel can perform today is in finally correcting perspectives on Cecil. He never wanted to be forgotten, of course. But he wants patrons, not to be patronised. And to saturate his every success in saccharine emotion is not just an affront to his dignity. It almost implies that when he seemed to be forgotten, it was for a good reason. The fact is that the trainer who saddles the favourite for both Group One prizes today is the same one who once brought Bosra Sham, Indian Skimmer, Diesis and Wollow across town from Warren Place for this meeting. With Frankel, perhaps, the time has finally come to reserve our awe for the horse, and our gratitude for the simple fact that he ended up in hands equal to his talent
Frankel's performance at Ascot was perhaps the most visually electrifying by a juvenile since Arazi at the 1991 Breeders' Cup. You would need your head examined, of course, to be tempted by the microscopic odds since offered against Frankel proceeding to win the 2,000 Guineas and Investec Derby next year. In fact, those disposed to an ante-post interest are once again urged to back Strong Suit now for the Guineas, at 25-1, because it seems hard to picture the first three in the betting all retaining their reputations after converging this afternoon. But there's no doubt that Frankel has the intoxicating lustre of a raw gem.
We will find out today whether he has the same hardness – whether he gleams all the more brightly, when scrubbed, or simply disintegrates. By all accounts, his last piece of work was breathtaking, confirming the impression of his first three races. But he will surely have to spit on his hands today, when encountering much the toughest field of his career to date. If he is anything like his namesake, the tough Jew from Brooklyn who ended up training for a Saudi prince, that is when you will see the very best of him.
It is difficult to be so positive on behalf of Dream Ahead, although he beat better horses in the Middle Park. To tackle a still deeper field just 15 days later represents a huge challenge, even before you assess his competence to repeat the form over a seventh furlong on less congenial ground. Dream Ahead has given David Simcock a deserved breakthrough, fast-tracked from a Nottingham maiden to win consecutive Group Ones, but even Cecil might struggle to keep the flame burning in such a draught. It would almost be as remarkable for Dream Ahead to complete the double as it would be for next year's Middle Park winner, who wouldn't even be given time to be hosed down.
The third unbeaten colt in the field warrants plenty of respect, albeit Saamidd did not have to beat a vintage field for the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster. He clearly has loads of ability and, while Dream Ahead has been sprinting and the favourite drops down from a mile, seven furlongs is the Godolphin colt's proven métier.
Roderic O'Connor, who disappeared after two starts in 16 days back in June, has attracted a little support at big odds. The fact Aidan O'Brien has chosen to run this colt requires him to be taken seriously, even if the Ballydoyle juveniles have not so far looked a vintage crop.
It would be characteristic of both the man and the sport were Jim Bolger, having saddled three consecutive Dewhurst winners between 2006 and 2008, to shoot down all these glamorous creatures with a maiden, Glor Na Mara. All neutrals, however, will be united in the hope that one of these stellar prospects can find a legitimate place in the firmament. If things keep going as they are, after all, we'll be coming back in a few years to see the Totesport Cesarewitch reduced to a series of two-furlong heats, shown between courses on Come Dine With Me. How wholesome, then, if a sport that can give us Henry Cecil and Bobby Frankel could be reminded what unites all its many different characters – no more and no less, that is, than the quest for a bloody good horse.
Wigmore Hall offers platform for Bell to take a bow at HQ finale
The final running of the Emirates Airline Champion Stakes before its eviction from Newmarket sets an instructive standard against which to measure the effect of a staggering prize-money boost when it moves to Ascot next year. It's a terrific field, and while many will decide that a bet is liable to spoil their enjoyment of the day's other big race, the big prices available about some proven, top-class horses make this one another story.
The most attractive wager, however, is one yet to make his breakthrough at this level, Not Await The Dawn, exciting though he looks after an explosive coming of age at Leopardstown last month. His elite pedigree and connections mean that further improvement is already assumed in the odds, whereas 20-1 against Wigmore Hall, trained by Michael Bell (above right) allows plenty of margin for error.
It might seem a bit rich to recommend a horse who could not win a conditions race at Doncaster on his latest start but is now competing against such established Group One operators as last year's winner, Twice Over. But Wigmore Hall was entitled to run flat at Doncaster, a fortnight after a generous effort in the Secretariat Stakes. Though ill suited by the run of the race in Chicago, he was still beaten only by an exceptional rival by the standards of American turf racing, Paddy O'Prado, having previously run third in the Kentucky Derby. His prior record on home soil had suggested continued improvement, and Wigmore Hall (3.0) travels so strongly that better horses may well help him look look better again.
Turf Account: Chris McGrath
Spahi (5.10 Catterick)
Plunged 13lb in just three starts during the spring, having shown some fairly useful form in France, and has since entered the care of a switched-on young trainer in David O'Meara. Gelded during his absence, he just scrapes into the range to meet some exposed rivals as he steps up in trip.
Delegator (1.50 Newmarket)
Slight concern he has such a good record fresh, having returned from a long absence with a stylish win at Newbury last month. But this trip has long promised to prove his best and, assuming he goes forwards for his comeback, has an edge in class on these.
One to watch
Silaah (D Nicholls) has soon begun to click for his new stable, excelling from a poor draw when tried over 5f at Ayr and then caught in heavy traffic back over 6f at Kempton earlier in the week.
Where the money's going
Hopes that the Derby and Arc winner will tackle the Breeders' Cup Turf prompted support for Workforce from 3-1 to 2-1 with Paddy Power, while Sky Bet offer 4-1 that Frankel wins the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes today by four and a half lengths or more.
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