The winning post is only ever a staging post. In answering one question, a horse almost always invites the next. This defining virtue of the Turf has not been properly grasped by those behind the new Champions Day – misguidedly set up in opposition to the international calendar, instead of enriching it. There is scope to redress that in future. For now, however, they might profitably reflect on where Future Champions Day found its most compelling elements at Newmarket on Saturday.
In the event, an occasion ostensibly set up in counterpoint to Ascot this weekend did not find quite the climax it might have sought from the two Group One prizes controversially staged together for the first time. The card none the less managed to match its billing by quickening anticipation for new challenges ahead. Among the more seasoned horses, for instance, Strong Suit must now be regarded as a formidable obstruction to Goldikova's quest for that fourth success in the Breeders' Cup Mile next month. And the conjunction of so many good juvenile races duly yielded a most seductive candidate for next year's Classics in Wading – far and away the most eligible "Future Champion" on display.
To any who enjoy an occasional ante-post wager, nearly every detail about this filly bellows for attention. She was born for greatness, certainly, by Montjeu out of a half-sister to Sea The Stars and Galileo, and is in the best of hands at Ballydoyle. After laying pleasing foundations in two maidens, however, what she did in the Rockfel Stakes was a revelation. Though she has every right to stay middle distances next year, and was keeping slick company over seven furlongs on fast ground, she travelled smoothly through the race before stretching ravenously when prompted by Ryan Moore. As a final flourish, she stopped the clock just inside the time set by Parish Hall against Group One colts in the Dewhurst itself.
Perhaps the only caveat is that Aidan O'Brien already has a filly with established 1,000 Guineas credentials in Maybe, while the debut at Navan last week of Pour Moi's three-parts sister, Kissed, apparently confirmed some in the stable in their suspicion that she may be the best Epsom prospect at Ballydoyle. A lot of water must still pass under the bridge, of course, but it is only these rocks in the stream that undermine quotes against Wading of 10-1 for Guineas and Oaks alike.
She completed a good day at the office for O'Brien, who had already saddled juveniles to reach every level of the podium in the two Group Ones. Power was beaten just half a length by Parish Hall, while Crusade and Reply finished first and third in the Middle Park. With such depth among the Ballydoyle juveniles, and after a quiet season for his present boss, it is hardly surprising that Moore is subject of increasing speculation about a switch across the Irish Sea next year.
The contiguity of the races now guarantees that the Middle Park will increasingly be confined to precocious sprinting types – hardly the typical mould of a future champion – but at least it succeeded in throwing forward a new plot line. For Crusade is now likely to proceed to the Breeders' Cup, where he has the genes to be effective on dirt, and he may be joined in Louisville by Lilbourne Lad and Caspar Netscher, albeit they would presumably stick to the turf after finishing second and fifth respectively on Saturday. Alan McCabe merits huge credit for his handling of Caspar Netscher, who had a troubled passage through from the rear and is plainly still thriving on a hectic campaign of nine races.
Lilbourne Lad's trainer, Richard Hannon, has long had an aversion to the Breeders' Cup – attributed to the loss of Mr Brooks at Gulfstream in 1992 –but put his toe back in the water when Paco Boy was fourth in the Mile last year. A leisurely success in the Challenge Stakes suggests Strong Suit to be better than ever since his wind operation, and Richard Hughes believes his mount is tailor-made for the sharp turns and fast track at Churchill Downs. The home defence in the Mile will once again be led by Gio Ponti, who won the big local trial at Keeneland over the weekend. The Newmarket raider, Dance And Dance, was comfortably held in fifth but at least fared better than Zoffany, who trailed in last.
Hannon's two Dewhurst runners, Bronterre and Trumpet Major, did not quite make the frame though beaten barely a length behind Parish Hall. With so many having brought indefinite scope for improvement into the race, it was disappointing they discovered broadly similar limits. Few had seemed as exposed as the winner, it must be said, but you have to take your hat off to Jim Bolger. O'Brien's mentor has now trained the winner of this race four times in six years – a sequence begun by Parish Hall's sire, Teofilo – and if he thinks this is an Epsom colt, then you differ at your peril.
Quite apart from the severing of links with the Middle Park, this new slot means that the Dewhurst can no longer be fortified by the Prix Lagardère at Longchamp. Rock Of Gibraltar did the double, while half a dozen others who contested both races since 2000 won at least one of them. But however infuriating all this glib vandalism to the calendar, the fact that no more than 9,000 people could be mustered on the Rowley Mile to witness six Group races will give some credence to the theory that the new Champions Day – however well or ill conceived – could only hope to make a giant leap forward, in terms of attendance, at Ascot.
Another contentious attempt to reach beyond the sport's parish boundaries gets under way today. Jockeys are sounding increasingly unhappy about what they consider draconian new whip rules, and it remains to be seen how smart an idea it was to showcase any teething problems in the same week as this new flagship race day. If we are approaching a fairly extraordinary Saturday, then this will be no ordinary Monday.
* Chris McGrath's Nap: Spanish Pride (5.0 Salisbury)
Two of her three handicap starts have been full of promise, notably when finishing well on her return at Nottingham last time. Bred to improve again at this trip and surely better than this mark.
* Next best: Billy Buttons (5.30 Salisbury)
Keeps finishing second but improving every time, and the longer distance here could trigger the breakthrough for his in-form stable.
* One to watch: Stormy Whatever (James Given) continues to suggest he has more ability than his rating, going with plenty of dash through desperate ground at Ayr last week before fading into third.
* Where the money's going
Parish Hall, initially dismissed at 25-1 for the Investec Derby after his success at Newmarket on Saturday, was yesterday backed into 16-1 with William Hill.Reuse content