Where horses are concerned, hubris is always along for the ride. But the marketing men intent on rearranging the racing programme into bite-size pieces were always going to be on fairly safe ground in branding a card that contains the Dewhurst Stakes as Future Champions Day. The seven- furlong contest, founded in 1875, has long been the best indicator of burgeoning young talent and in the past dozen years six of its winners have gone on to Classic glory, and one to immortality.
Saturday's so-called Champions Day at Ascot, though, may be a less easy tag to justify. For the first time since its recent creation the horse who carried it – Frankel, winner of the 2010 Dewhurst Stakes and everything else he tried – will be absent and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe heroine Treve apart, this season is short of overweening senior superstars. Despite its massive prize money – more than £3 million – the occasion may be a case of whose turn.
At this time of year underfoot conditions are likely to dictate not only results, but participation. In Ascot's richest contest, for instance, the £1.3 million Champion Stakes, there are four Ballydoyle contenders under consideration but an overly-testing ground would certainly rule out the best of them, Declaration Of War.
The turf at Newmarket yesterday was rain-softened but not quite enough to prevent one of the stars of Aidan O'Brien's juvenile team, War Command, taking his chance in the Dewhurst Stakes, and indeed winning it, rather easily. The colt, the 10-11 favourite, had to be pushed out to see off outsider Cable Bay by just over a length, but responded willingly to rider Joseph O'Brien's urgings. And though there was no sign of the stunning acceleration of his runaway victory in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot, it was a professional display from a powerful young athlete. And as soon as he passed the winning line he pricked his ears, a sign that a horse has won with plenty in reserve.
O'Brien, the trainer's son, liked what he felt under the saddle. "He was idling like mad once he hit the front," he said, "waiting for the other horse to come to him before he went on again and another day I'd probably sit for another half-furlong ."
War Command is now challenging Australia in some bookmakers' lists as Ballydoyle's No 1 hope for next year's 2,000 Guineas, taken by Frankel, of course, and last year's Dewhurst winner, Dawn Approach. The son of War Front is as short as 6-1 for the Classic back on the Rowley Mile in May.
"We were worried about the ground," said O'Brien senior, "as he's a good-actioned horse and when it was very quick at Ascot, that's what he wanted. But there's only one Dewhurst, and we had to get him out. He appreciated the good pace today [set by stablemate Friendship] and is very straightforward."
Yesterday was the first Group 1 juvenile strike of the season for Ballydoyle, but O'Brien nonetheless has an apparently strong hand for next year's Classics, including Australia, the Beresford Stakes winner Geoffrey Chaucer and Giovanni Boldini, who scored impressively under the radar at Dundalk.
The afternoon's other top-level contest, the Middle Park Stakes, provided a notable one-two for Kevin Ryan, as Astaire, ridden by Neil Callan, repelled Hot Streak by half a length. The six-furlong contest, though, is more a guide to future sprinting than Classic talent and the all-the-way winner's Guineas chances are dismissed at 33-1.
For the second time in three years the Cesarewitch went to a 66-1 outsider. Scatter Dice was left 10 lengths at the start but shrugged the deficit aside over two and a quarter miles, surging to the front inside the final furlong under Silvestre de Sousa to beat 20-1 shot Waterclock three lengths and give trainer Mark Johnston a third success in the historic marathon handicap.