Chris McGrath: OK, the future may not be on show today but it looks like fun
However distasteful the cheerleading – some of which is straight out of the Brezhnev era – it would be churlish not to acknowledge and savour the top-class horses picking their way across the new autumn schedule.
Organisers and critics alike must find it in themselves to concede ground, once they have seen how things play out at Ascot next Saturday and at Newmarket this afternoon. For now, however, it seems that the time has come (in conformity with the patriotic misapprehensions that prompted much of the change) to lie back and think of England. After all, whatever objections might be made to Future Champions Day, the bottom line is that the Rowley Mile today hosts six Group races and one of the most venerable handicaps in the calendar.
Now it does remain a pity that our premier juvenile race might never again be fortified by the winner of the only elite prize in Britain previously available to young colts. Not, that is, if they want time to hose him down first. In the event, Dream Ahead did not show his form in the Dewhurst last year, but his showdown with Frankel only caused so much excitement because he had already won a Middle Park by nine lengths.
As it happens, Dream Ahead has still won more Group One prizes than Frankel, partly because the latter has been painted into a corner by the new calendar. Regardless, it is clearly hazardous to reduce – in the name of a fairly flimsy marketing concept – from three to two the Group One opportunities in Britain for juvenile colts. The other, after all, calls for very different virtues in the Racing Post Trophy.
The Middle Park was under strong consideration for Power, who ended up in the Dewhurst instead. While the Middle Park held up in quantity, with a field of 16, it looks unlikely to match the Dewhurst for quality. What you can say, judging from these fields, is that the two races will obtain a divergent character: one very much for precocious sprinters, the other for Guineas types.
As such, the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes is much the more interesting. Ektihaam, Bronterre, Most Improved and Spiritual Star have only just embarked upon the ladder, and it would be ridiculous to pretend any certainty as to the highest rung in their reach. Yet they must all improve even to meet the collective standard already set by rivals with Group runs.
Power himself has been beaten only once in five starts – cut down late after seeing off those who had contested a strong pace in the Phoenix Stakes – and won his first Group One over this seventh furlong in the National Stakes last time. As at Royal Ascot earlier in the summer, he gave an impression of indolence and he may have more to give.
By the same token, he lacks the flair of many past Dewhurst winners and it would be gratifying to see one of the less exposed types come forward with an instant claim to rival Dabirsim, the French colt, as champion juvenile. The most eligible British youngster had appeared to be Harbour Watch, but he has been sidelined by a setback. It would be fitting, then, if the prize could go to his well-backed stablemate Bronterre, who has least to find among the Group debutants after winning a Listed race by five lengths.
But the colt who chased home Bronterre on his debut was simply swatted aside over this course last month by Spiritual Star. Kingsclere is home to a strong team of juveniles this term, so it must be significant that this one has stood out sufficiently to warrant a supplementary entry. Most Improved has a very similar profile, living up to home reputation on his second start, but perhaps none has shown the éclat to match Ektihaam (3.10).
Having graduated from a rock-solid maiden, he still looked green at Doncaster last time – in the same race that gave us Frankel last year – but the way he organised his imposing frame to go clear suggested him as a star in the making. That is certainly the case of his young trainer, Roger Varian, who crowned his first season with a maiden Group One win at Longchamp last Sunday and can now make it two in a week.
Dabirsim's form is, meanwhile, represented in the Emaar Middle Park Stakes by Family One, runner-up in the Prix Morny. He looks all speed, however, and may just be vulnerable on the climb to the line. As such the 20-1 against Reply (2.35) looks too good to resist. He saw out the trip thoroughly against a pace bias in a sales race last time – better form, at the weights, than he had shown in two previous ventures into Group company. Certainly, it puts him right in the mix on official ratings.
Astrology (5.00) and Wading (4.25) have more obvious credentials to amplify the strength in depth of the Ballydoyle juveniles. Among the older horses, Strong Suit (2.05) looks copper-bottomed, while Questioning (5.35) is on the upgrade, and the effect of a moderate draw may be overstated in the drifting odds against Veiled (3.50) in the Betfred Cesarewitch.
That race scarcely fits the day's billing, unless there is a top staying hurdler of the future lurking in there. You might as well switch across to Cue Card's chasing debut, from Chepstow this afternoon. No matter. For now everyone should agree to check their quibbles at the gate, and enjoy the show.
So what do Ballydoyle really think about So You Think?
The fact that connections are apparently prepared to run So You Think at Ascot next Saturday, just 13 days after a very hard race in the Arc, presumably means they might yet send him on to the Breeders' Cup as well. But it is hard to know whether they are being governed primarily by faith in his physical hardiness – which they do like to stress – or by some strategic preference.
Ballydoyle's recent record at the Breeders' Cup is an increasing embarrassment. The stable's patrons are supposed to cherish the meeting as the ultimate stallion showcase for the American market, but keep sending horses there almost as an afterthought. If they think So You Think has a genuine shot at winning the Classic itself, then why on earth don't they do it like they mean it?
Since his arrival from Australia, So You Think has confirmed both his class and its apparent limitations against European competition. These might still permit him to trouser the biggest prize offered on the British Turf, but the potential remains for a still greater dividend from a solitary start on dirt – both on and off the track. If his owners are prepared to jeopardise his chance in Louisville, in order to get a piece of the action at Ascot, then that would seem a genuine breakthrough for the Qipco British Champions' Day.
Await The Dawn could yet represent them at Ascot instead, but So You Think is already favourite and it seems likely they will favour a bird in the hand.
They seem somewhat more focused with Zoffany, who has evidently seen enough of Frankel for one season. Instead he tests the water against the American milers – once again headed by Gio Ponti – at Keeneland tonight. He is joined in the Shadwell Mile by Dance And Dance, overdue a change of luck in his remarkable improvement for Ed Vaughan.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Questioning (5.35 Newmarket)
Caught up in heavy traffic before producing a strong finish out of midfield in the Cambridgeshire, responding well to the visor, and had previously done well to get involved from off a quickening pace at Haydock.
Reply (2.35 Newmarket)
Seems to have been underestimated after an improved effort in a big field at Doncaster last time, conceding 13lb to the runner-up, and doing well to see it out in a finish otherwise dominated by closers.
One to watch
Musnad (Brian Ellison) could not quite land the nap at 14-1 yesterday, but confirmed his improvement for his new trainer while looking likely to do better still if produced very late.
Where the money's going
On the eve of his biggest test, Bronterre was backed to 20-1 from 33-1 with William Hill for the Qipco 2,000 Guineas next year.
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