The final opportunity this season in this country for a two-year-old to present his claims as a wonder horse comes at Doncaster on Saturday. Or, if not wonder horse – for the Dewhurst Stakes winner Frankel already seems to have annexed that popular title – then maybe, with less fanfare, a champion. The Racing Post Trophy has as good a record in unearthing elite performers as the Newmarket race, and a better recent hand of Derby winners in recent years, trumping the Dewhurst's New Approach and Sir Percy with Authorized, Motivator and High Chaparral.
Irish stables are perceived as most likely to take the Group One prize this time, with Casamento from Michael Halford's, Dunboyne Express from Kevin Prendergast's and Seville from Aidan O'Brien's the first three in the betting. The home defence is led by the Ed Dunlop-trained Native Khan, who sidestepped the showdown with Frankel at his local track five days ago in favour of the test over the demanding straight mile on Town Moor.
Yesterday, on a bright, chilly Newmarket morning, the striking grey son of Azamour warmed up for his most challenging assignment yet with a getting-to-know-you session under his new big-race rider Paul Hanagan. And the jockeys' title leader liked what he felt as his mount strode five lengths clear of his lead horse in a six-and-a-half furlong spin. "He's going to have to be good to win on Saturday," Hanagan said, "because it looks a tough race. But he's already shown in public he's got ability, and this morning went very well indeed. He's a very nice horse."
The latest of Native Khan's two wins came in the seven-furlong Solario Stakes at Sandown, when he was ridden by the currently injured Eddie Ahern. "Native Khan can be lazy and takes some knowing, but he and Paul seemed to hit it off straight away," said Dunlop. We may or may not have made the right decision in swerving the Newmarket race," said Dunlop, "particularly after two of the so-called big three [Dream Ahead and Saamidd] failed to fire. But in the end we look like getting better ground at Doncaster. Native Khan is a good-actioned individual and will appreciate it if the going continues to dry out. The race might not look so tough as the Dewhurst, but it is still competitive and those Irish horses have solid credentials. As does Titus Mills."
The last-named may well strike a note of caution with Dunlop, for Kieren Fallon, who rode Native Khan on his debut, has opted instead for Brian Meehan's charge, likewise unbeaten in two.
Casamento, one of the first batch of juveniles sent to Halford by Sheikh Mohammed, won the Beresford Stakes at the Curragh last time out, as did last year's Racing Post Trophy winner St Nicholas Abbey. The Shamardal colt, on whom Frankie Dettori will sport the sheikh's original maroon-and-white silks, will fly in from Co Kildare this evening. "He'll have a canter in the morning," said Halford yesterday. "All is well and the straight course at Doncaster is very like the Curragh."
Casamento and Seville, a Galileo colt who won at Tipperary this month, are prominent in the early Derby betting. At Navan yesterday O'Brien introduced another of his Epsom likely lads as the Montjeu colt Recital powered past the race-fit Giants Serapis to make it seven in a row for a Ballydoyle inmate in the contest taken two years ago by Fame And Glory. "It rode a good race," said rider Johnny Murtagh. "He's a big, green horse but he has plenty of class and you could well see him show it in the first week of June next year."
Sue Montgomery's Nap
Modun (8.10 Kempton) Any concerns about his handicap entry mark after a narrow defeat of very moderate opposition on his debut are offset by likely improvement to come. He won despite greenness and, as a half-brother to Patkai, is a stayer in the making and will relish the step up to 12 furlongs.
Catbells (4.40 Brighton) Came well clear of the third when just pipped over course and distance a week ago and, racing off the same mark, can score at her 16th attempt.
One to watch
Ottoman Empire (D R Lanigan) Lost little in defeat against a handicap snip last week at Newmarket, where the undulations did not seem to suit, and can progress back on all-weather tracks.
Where the money's going
Americain has been slashed from 25-1 to 10-1 for the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday week after yesterday's victory in his warm-up, the Geelong Cup, under the highest weight for 44 years.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Zip Lock (2.00 Brighton)