The writing would seem not only to be on the wall, but daubed in letters about eight feet tall. It takes a certain nerve, then, to propose the miniature script of the form book as a better guide to the final Group One race of the British season.
Kingsbarns arrives at Doncaster today as a heavily backed favourite to give Aidan O'Brien a seventh Racing Post Trophy. The easy winner of a mediocre Navan maiden just 17 days ago, he was supplemented on Monday – when O'Brien also left five original entries in the race. The fact that none of these was ultimately declared against him suggests that Kingsbarns, though a late developer, is considered an outstanding prospect at Ballydoyle. After all, even Camelot was escorted by a stablemate when likewise coming here straight off a maiden win last year.
O'Brien has so many elite middle-distance prospects in his care – five of the six he left in the race on Monday were by the phenomenal Galileo – that such an unequivocal show of faith must clearly count for plenty. Fast-tracked to the elite, however, Kingsbarns surely demands too giddy a leap of faith at short odds against rivals with some pretty serious runs on the board. Steeler, for one, progressed for the step up to this trip in the Royal Lodge Stakes. The runner-up, Artigiano, has since been dignified as the only Breeders' Cup candidate in Godolphin's entire European string; moreover at Santa Anita Artigiano will meet the only colt to have beaten Steeler since his debut, Dundonnell. One way or another, Steeler sets a solid standard, albeit he encounters easier ground this time.
Van Der Neer's stable has terrific juvenile depth, but he must prove his stamina today – just like his stablemate, Montiridge, at Newmarket a couple of weeks ago. That colt could not stem the rally of Trading Leather (3.05) and it could be a similar story today.
O'Brien's mentor, Jim Bolger, is unabashed in his hope that this son of Galileo's own breakthrough colt, Teofilo, is a Derby type for next season. After two promising spins in Ireland – including a maiden win at least as emphatic as the favourite's – Trading Leather proved too professional for several unbeaten rivals in what looked a very strong contest at Newmarket. In other words, he has all the hard-knocking hallmarks you associate with Bolger, who is already responsible for the season's leading two-year-old in Dawn Approach. He may yet end the day with the favourite for both the 2,000 Guineas and Derby.
Down at Newbury the appearance of Frankel's half-brother, Noble Mission, so soon after the champion's final race should suggest a reproof to those who permit themselves the glib certainty that they saw "the best ever" at Ascot last week. Though unnecessarily disguised under the sponsorship of Worthington, this race is cherished as the St Simon Stakes and so honoured an unbeaten champion of the 19th century, who won the Ascot Gold Cup and Goodwood Cup by 20 lengths apiece. Mathew Dawson, who saddled six Derby winners (two more than Sir Henry Cecil) declared: "I trained only one good horse in my life – St Simon." It would be nice to think that Frankel's name will remain more respected by future generations than that of St Simon, by Newbury.
It looks a suitably competitive race, anyhow, with Noble Mission himself tempting after his break. Fattsota (2.45) is suggested only on the basis that he enters this tougher grade as perhaps the most progressive in the field.
Some excellent sport at Aintree, meanwhile, testifies to the increasing momentum of the jumps season, the Betfred Monet's Garden Old Roan Chase being perhaps its best steeplechase to date. It may not conform to his name to hope that Wishfull Thinking (3.30) retains more ability than his rating, and this was the scene of his best performance in a disappointing campaign last time round.
After much speculation earlier in the week, Jamie Spencer was yesterday formally confirmed as retained jockey to Qatar's Sheikh Fahad and his brothers. He has signed a two-year contract from 1 January. Very experienced, in his physical prime and an intelligent team player, Spencer looks an ideal appointment for his ambitious young patrons.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Kittens (9.15 Wolverhampton)
Code Of Honor (3.35 Doncaster)