Rain stopped play at cricket grounds all over the country yesterday, but for Britain's leading trainers, it meant that one of the season's most exciting phases was about to begin. Dozens of expensive, blue-blooded juveniles, kept idle for months by the firm ground, can now be unleashed, and the ante-post lists for next year's Classics will be rewritten time and again in the weeks to come.
Red Robbo, a runner at York this afternoon, will be one of the first of the autumn talking horses to see a track, and if the spies who watch Henry Cecil's string at exercise in Newmarket are right, he will win in a canter before graduating to Group class. And if they are wrong, of course, there will be another morning glory along in a week or so, and Red Robbo will return to obscurity just as swiftly as he left it.
The current benchmark for emerging two-year-olds is Dick Hern's Alhaarth, an impressive winner both at Glorious Goodwood and in Sandown's Solario Stakes, and currently the 8-1 favourite for next year's Derby. Royal Applause, trained by Barry Hills, Tagula (Ian Balding) and the filly Blue Duster (David Loder) have also made their mark, and in the eyes of Geoffrey Gibbs, the Jockey Club's senior handicapper, the late arrivals may struggle to catch up.
"I'm certainly not despondent about those which have run," Gibbs said yesterday. "Alhaarth and Tagula both put up very good performances and would both be rated at 120 or upwards, which at this time of year is as much as I'd be looking for. Blue Duster's form has also stood up very well and she'd certainly be up to the standard for fillies. Some have probably been inhibited by the ground, but there's plenty of good races to come and time for them to come out."
Gibbs has already noted "an awful lot of horses which are potentially top-class and could be anything", at least some of which should feed into the cycle of valuable autumn juvenile events.
It begins at Doncaster next week with the Champagne Stakes, closely followed by the Middle Park, Dewhurst and the Post Trophy. Alhaarth is expected to run at Doncaster, but while his campaign to date has been fairly straightforward, the arrival of rain may ensure that his career will be ever more demanding.
There was a minor addition to the two-year-old form book at Ripon yesterday, when Dark Deed, third to the highly-regarded Bosra Sham on her debut, could finish only second to Dashing Blue in a maiden event.
More significantly, the race also included the last runner to be saddled by Susan Piggott, after an eight-year training career which began unexpectedly when her husband, Lester, was jailed in 1987. Alamein failed to sign her off in style, however, and could finish only fourth.
"I wish I could have gone out on a winning note," Mrs Piggott said. "It's difficult to think of a highlight in my training career as any winner, from a seller to a big race, comes the same." Mrs Piggott, whose best season was in 1989 when she sent out 34 winners, will remain in racing as assistant trainer to Willie Haggas, her son-in-law.
Lake Coniston, already the 4-7 favourite yesterday morning for the Sprint Cup at Haydock on Saturday, shortened still further during the day to close at 4-9.
The steady easing of the ground at the Lancashire track which prompted the cut sent most of his rivals in the other direction, though Cherokee Rose, the French challenger, is now 5-1 from 8-1. So Factual (4-1 from 3-1), Owington (10-1 from 8-1) and Mind Games (16-1 from 12-1) are all on the drift.Reuse content