It is billed as Future Champions Day, so the very least we should expect at Newmarket this afternoon is that the Middle Park Stakes and the Dewhurst Stakes, two of the most important juvenile events in the calendar, will reveal one or two bound for the very top, perhaps even a Derby winner.
As always on such big occasions, Aidan O’Brien’s horses are centre stage and this will be a day when Great White Eagle (Middle Park) and War Command (Dewhurst) either reinforce their already lofty reputations or return to Ireland with bubbles burst.
Of the 19 involved in the two contests, only Great White Eagle (2.35 Newmarket) is unbeaten and therefore is perhaps on the strongest footing to go on to become a true champion. He has not beaten much of note yet, but has been so impressive doing so that he is already just 10-1 for next year’s 2,000 Guineas and nothing less than another victory will satisfy all at Ballydoyle.
War Command will be an even stronger favourite after wide-margin wins at Royal Ascot and the Curragh, but he disappointed in between times and, though it is still too early to tell for sure, maybe is not a future champion after all, despite quotes of 12-1 for the 2,000 Guineas and 16-1 for the Derby.
If there is a chink in his armour, it is likely to be exposed by Godolphin’s Outstrip (3.10 Newmarket), a colt already boasting smart form and getting better with every run.
You would not think the draw would matter much in a race of two and a quarter miles with just one turn in it, but there was quite a severe shake-up in the Cesarewitch betting market on Thursday when punters discovered which horses had drawn the “lucky” low numbers and which had been left high and dry.
It was probably an overreaction. Yes, those drawn low have enjoyed disproportional success in recent years, but there have been significant exceptions, notably when Frankie Dettori, drawn 36 of 36 on Never Can Tell two years ago, thought, “To hell with it, I’m going this way” and proceeded to plough a lone furrow on the wide outside to a famous victory. Which just goes to show you never can tell.
So fans of Lady Cecil’s Ebor winner and long-time ante-post favourite, Tiger Cliff (drawn 30), should not be dismayed unduly and a draw of 22 certainly will not put me off having a couple of quid each-way on Broxbourne (3.50 Newmarket), who has drifted out to around 25-1.
Mark Johnston’s tough-as-teak mare has really come good in the second half of the season and appealed very much as a prospective Cesarewitch winner when hunting down a big field over an even longer distance than this at Goodwood in July.
Broxbourne was not at her best last time out over this course and distance and there is the possibility she may have lost her edge, but I think it more likely that the race just failed to pan out for her. She needs a strong pace and an extreme test of stamina to bring out the best in her and should be in her element this afternoon.
Let’s face it, this is not a race for nailing your colours to just one mast and a saver is definitely in order. The lightly raced Pallasator, promising on his return to action at Haydock and trained by Sir Mark Prescott – a man with a golden reputation for solving the big handicap puzzles – ticks a lot of boxes. This has not, however, been the luckiest of races for the colourful baronet down the years; five beaten favourites, five stabs to the heart.
Baccarat (3.30 York) is on a retrieval mission in the Coral Sprint Trophy Handicap after failing to land a huge gamble in the Ayr Gold Cup last month. The draw really was a big issue in Scotland, with those unable to secure a position near to the stands rail at a clear disadvantage; Baccarat did well to finish as close as he did from out in the middle of the track.
Trainer Richard Fahey believes Baccarat will one day make the grade in Group company and in the meantime he is well worth another chance off what is still a very workable handicap mark.
Countrywide Flame, runner-up in last year’s Cesarewitch and third in the Champion Hurdle in March, has been found to have a stress fracture which rules him out of the jumps season. “We’ll bring him back next Flat season and try to win the Cesarewitch,” said his trainer, John Quinn.