No less than the trees, with their decaying leaves and ripening fruit, horses reflect the ambivalence of autumn. Once again, then, the Emirates Airline Champion Stakes on Saturday will measure animals on the cusp of decline against others only now reaching maturity.
In his time, Marcus Tregoning has brought both types to Newmarket. His Derby winner, Sir Percy, proved a miserable disappointment in the race three years ago; but Nayef, who had sat out the rigours of the Derby, ultimately made his Group One breakthrough in the 2001 running. Unmistakably, and auspiciously, their trainer's candidate this time has a good deal more in common with the latter.
For one thing, Mawatheeq's dam is herself very closely related to Nayef. And albeit a year older than Nayef, when he won here, Mawatheeq was likewise given a break after disappointing in the spring. He has impressed in both starts since, notably when emulating Nayef's success in the Cumberland Lodge Stakes at Ascot last month. That was his first start over a mile and a half, but Tregoning feels that dropping back two furlongs will suit him even better.
The trainer was always certain that Nayef would be top-class. Only in meeting Fame And Glory, however, will Tregoning know whether the same will prove true of Mawatheeq. "I think he could be," he said. "In fact, I'm pretty sure he is. Without the setback he had, when he was being broken in, I would say definitely. I remember seeing him as a yearling in Dubai, and thinking him nicest of the lot."
That setback meant the colt did not enter Tregoning's Lambourn stables until he was three. "So he's very lightly raced," he said. "His action wasn't brilliant last year, but this year we've had a much better run with him, he's moving much better and he's a very different horse. There is improvement to come. Obviously it's a big step up, this race, but we think we should do it because he's in very good form, looks an absolute picture – and he's fresh."
Hardly the first adjective that would suggest itself for Fame And Glory, who won his first Classic trial in April. "But I tend not to worry about that with Aidan O'Brien's horses," Tregoning remarked. "I don't know how he does it, but think of High Chaparral. He had a long season, got beaten in the Arc – and then came out and won at the Breeders' Cup. But no, it has to be an advantage. You do sometimes find a few pounds, with a lightly raced horse going into the autumn. We did with Mubtaker, when he ran the race of his life in the Arc. Hopefully, this horse can do the same on Saturday – we think he can. It was really impressive, the way he picked up at Ascot, from last to first. And he's still learning, really."
Mawatheeq, like Nayef, required patient handling – not a problem, demonstrably, for a trainer who was prepared to shut his yard for several weeks when struck by a virus in the spring. "It doesn't always come off, when you stop with them, but you hugely improve the percentages in your favour," he said. "If you keep sending out runners here, there and everywhere, you'll never get to the end of it. But I'm very lucky to have owners like Sheikh Hamdan, who understand racing. If you had people new to the game, you might even find them moving on very quickly."
Now, happily, that is something he can leave to the horses themselves.
Turf account: Chris McGrath
Kazbow (9.00 Wolverhampton) Caught the eye on his return from a long absence at Goodwood, leading smoothly before tiring, in the process earning a modest rating for his handicap debut. A stout pedigree promises considerable improvement now that he steps up in trip.
Simple Rhythm (5.00 Brighton) Yet another feather in John Ryan's cap, she made it three out of four when charging clear of her rivals at Nottingham the other day and is going to take a lot of beating off a 1lb lower mark.
One to watch
Lady Luachmar (R A Fahey) remains lightly raced for her new stable and her exuberance before tiring at York last weekend implied that she has more to give, either when dropped in trip or learning to settle.
Where the money's going
Newmarket raiders Cima De Triomphe and Kirklees are 6-1 joint-favourites with Coral for the Caulfield Cup on Saturday.
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