Varian plots a juvenile finale to do Jarvis proud
Whatever the merits or otherwise of its horse-trading with Ascot, Newmarket may well perceive some kind of poignant benediction in the inauguration today of its new autumn programme. For those seeking centre stage, at a reconfigured Cambridgeshire meeting, include a man determined to treat his own career as a monument to one of the town's most respected citizens, Michael Jarvis, who died on Tuesday.
Back in February, when deteriorating health obliged him to end a training career stretching back four decades, Jarvis handed over Kremlin House Stables to his young assistant, Roger Varian. And, even in the trials of his final months, he must have found some comfort in the knowledge that he had groomed a talent worthy of his legacy.
In terms of both style and substance, it quickly became difficult to see the join. Varian was plainly cut from very similar cloth. Unassuming but assured, he has brought horses along – and placed them – with familiar circumspection. At 22 per cent, in fact, he enters the final weeks of the campaign with a higher strike rate than any of his domestic rivals in the trainers' top 30.
How fitting it would be, then, if Varian ended the week in which he lost his mentor with his boldest step yet into the future. Tomorrow, he seeks his first Group One prize when Firdaws, who has shown such radiant promise in two maiden starts, contests the Shadwell Fillies' Mile. But first he saddles one of his most promising colts, Farraaj, in the big race on the opening day of the meeting.
Given his general conformity to the temperate example of Jarvis, it admittedly feels surprising to see Varian turning Farraaj round for the Somerville Tattersall Stakes just eight days after an impressive performance at Sandown. "He didn't get a hard race last week, and has come out of it quite well," he said. "And I'm conscious we might lose the fast ground in October. We are turning him out again quite quickly, but he seems fresh and well."
In fairness, there has already been time for the form to be lavishly advertised. Tell Dad, thrashed five lengths at Sandown, was himself pressed straight back into service to dominate a competitive sales race at Newmarket last weekend. Farraaj's rivals today are a mixture of the seasoned and the unexposed, the latter including a couple from powerful Irish stables. Jim Bolger reckons the ground was too soft for Zip Top in the Anglesey Stakes while Crusade, having shown little on his first visit to these shores, built on his York debut with an impressive success at the Curragh just nine days later.
Varian had the option of running perhaps the very best of his young prospects, Ektihaam, in the Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes – like the Fillies' Mile, a refugee from Ascot – on Saturday. But Angus Gold, racing manager to Sheikh Hamdan, confirmed yesterday the colt would instead wait for the Darley Dewhurst Stakes on 8 October.
As usual, Godolphin go into autumn in especially good fettle, and their twin stables shared four winners at Goodwood yesterday. These included Hunter's Light, supposedly the least fancied of three Godolphin runners in the Listed race, and both maiden winners. Nine furlongs in testing ground so found out Welcome Gift's rivals that he romped home by 10 lengths, while Genius Step was following some illustrious hoofprints in the opener. It was in the equivalent race two years ago that Workforce announced himself.
By no stretch could Genius Step's trainer, Mahmood al Zarooni, any longer be considered junior to Saeed bin Suroor. In only his second domestic season, he has won twice as much prize-money as his old boss, and tomorrow provides the most obvious obstruction to Firdaws in Lyric Of Light, winner of the May Hill Stakes. She is 13-8 favourite with Victor Chandler, with the Doncaster runner-up, Fallen For You, next best at 9-4 while Firdaws is rated 5-1.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Gouray Girl (5.05 Newmarket) Has not been getting home over a mile but the return to this trip could bring an end to a frustrating sequence, with a new jockey likely to suit in Richard Hughes.
Ghostwriting (2.45 Newmarket) Well-bred colt in top hands who proved better than his initial rating when a decisive winner at Doncaster.
One to watch
Epoque (Sir Henry Cecil) represents an excellent Juddmonte family and has plainly inherited plenty of ability, judged on her third at Newmarket on Saturday, green throughout but closing nicely for third late on.
Where the money's going
Deacon Blues is 11-4 from 7-2 with William Hill for the Qipco Sprint at Ascot next month.
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