Like Marmite or Fisherman's Friends, you either love them or hate them. But unlike the tasty yeast-based spread or the disgusting throat sweets, you cannot ignore them. Juvenile races which offer massive prizes to a restricted group of competitors are now part and parcel of the calendar in Britain and in Ireland and the richest in each country is being run this week, today at Doncaster and on Friday at the Curragh.
The problem to some is, though, that these contests, open only to horses who have gone through an auction ring as yearlings, are not merely the most valuable in their category, but the most valuable of any two-year-old race of the year. Sunday's National Stakes at the Co Kildare track has Group One prestige, but the Goffs Million two days earlier has its eponymous purse.
The question of cash or honours has yet to be answered as far as the 2,000 Guineas favourite, New Approach, is concerned. The Jim Bolger-trained son of Galileo is entered in both races and the plates will be left spinning as long as possible.
The National Stakes is the more likely scenario for the unbeaten colt, in whom Sheikh Mohammed took a 50 per cent stake after he won the Futurity Stakes last month. But a possible twist came yesterday when Rio De La Plata, the juvenile star of the Sheikh's Godolphin operation, was supplemented to the seven-furlong contest at a cost of ¿30,000 (£21,000).
"Options are being kept open," said Bolger yesterday, "but we'll have to close them on Thursday. I'll be talking to John Ferguson [the sheikh's racing manager] before then."
The canny master of Glebe House won the National Stakes last year with the subsequent champion of his generation, Teofilo. Other luminaries to have scored in the recent past include the Aidan O'Brien trio of George Washington, Hawk Wing and King Of Kings and Dubawi for Godolphin.
The 18 still in contention for the latest edition yesterday include 10 from Ballydoyle, headed by Lizard Island and Henrythenavigator; another with a three-for-three record, Myboycharlie, who bears Coolmore silks but hails from Tommy Stack's yard; the impressive maiden winner Famous Name, handled by Dermot Weld; and a sole British raider, Mick Channon's charge Hatta Fort. New Approach heads the early market, ahead of Myboycharlie.
The National Stakes may be Ireland's top race for juvenile colts, but its first prize of some £120,000 will be wholly overshadowed by the much headier sum of nearly £700,000 on offer to Friday's winner, Europe's largest juvenile prize and Ireland's richest race of any type, not excluding the Irish Derby. New Approach could be considered a penalty kick for the crock of gold but Bolger added drily: "I've missed penalty kicks before."
Restricted races were invented by sales companies as promotion vehicles. Among the perceived pros are the boost to trade, the excitement engendered by the prospect of a massive prize for a possibly small outlay and the likelihood of a competitive betting heat between good-class runners. The cons are seen to include the disproportionate rewarding of talent, the unbalancing of bloodstock statistics, a possible threat to the hierarchy of Group races and the fact that owners are competing for their own money in the form, in effect, of a private sweepstake.
Bolger is among those broadly in favour. "I think they promote great interest in racing, which can only be good," he said. "If you breed your own horses you're ruled out of the big prize, unless you take your yearling out of a field and buy it back though the sale when maybe you'd rather it was eating grass and growing up. But on balance I have no problem with them."
Neither, presumably, had the owners who entered 449 then-unraced youngsters at £500 apiece back in March for this afternoon's £300,000 St Leger 2yo Stakes, a mammoth entry in search of a jackpot now whittled down to a more manageable 22.
The race, open to any auctioned yearling rather than those from a specific sale, has been introduced to replace that associated only with graduates of Doncaster Bloodstock Sales fixtures (now moved to the York Ebor meeting; don't ask) and so retain the glamour of a sexy prize on a revamped, and somewhat underwhelming, first day of the St Leger meeting.
Rapidly improving filly Dellini (3.45) can take the big pot for Mick Channon and Sheikh Ahmed (like he needs it) and other suggestions as racing returns to Town Moor after a year's absence are the Barry Hills pair Cigalas (3.10) and Royal Confidence (2.40).
This week's events mark a definite shift of seasonal emphasis. While the advent of global warming may have to bring a revision of the old adage that winter comes in with the tail of the last horse in the Leger, the slide to autumn has begun, even if it is so far a dry, golden one, with the ground at Doncaster good to firm and being watered.Reuse content