The leaves are falling off the trees and the temperature outside is just starting to get a little chilly, and that can mean only one thing: the National Hunt season is almost upon us.
The ground is getting softer and the jumps boys and girls will soon be back on the track and testing their mettle. But there are still a few meetings left in the flat campaign that are well worth of your time, and one such comes from Newmarket this weekend.
The Dubai Future Champions meet is a fantastic place for punters to spot the stars of tomorrow, and it is well worth taking a notebook and pen if you are watching on course or at home.
The standout race, the Dewhurst Stakes, has been won by the likes of Frankel, Rock of Gibraltar and Churchill in the past, so needless to say it’s a fine barometer of future successes.
The Dewhurst is run over seven miles on Newmarket’s Rowley Mile, and it is surely the most prestigious race for juveniles in the land. As well as the £500,000 purse, there’s also the very real chance that if you win this race, you will be well fancied to do the business in one or more of the Classics next season.
So there’s plenty at stake for the horses and all of their connections, and it is perhaps no wonder that two of the best trainers in the game tend to arrive on Newmarket well stacked. Certainly, the table below detailing the past 16 years of the Dewhurst Stakes identifies two trainers in particular to look out for:
Darley Dewhurst Winners – Last 16 Years
|2016||Churchill||Aidan O’Brien||Ryan Moore|
|2015||Air Force Blue||Aidan O’Brien||Ryan Moore|
|2014||Belardo||Roger Varian||Andrea Atzeni|
|2013||War Command||Aidan O’Brien||Joseph O’Brien|
|2012||Dawn Approach||Jim Bolger||Kevin Manning|
|2011||Parish Hall||Jim Bolger||Kevin Manning|
|2010||Frankel||Henry Cecil||Tom Quelly|
|2009||Beethoven||Aidan O’Brien||Ryan Moore|
|2008||Intense Focus||Jim Bolger||Kevin Manning|
|2007||New Approach||Jim Bolger||Kevin Manning|
|2006||Teofilo||Jim Bolger||Kevin Manning|
|2005||Sir Percy||Marcus Tregoning||Martin Dwyer|
|2004||Shamardal||Mark Johnston||Kevin Darley|
|2003||Milk It Mick||Jamie Osbourne||Darryll Holland|
|2002||Tout Seul||Fulke Johnson Houghton||Stephen Carson|
|2001||Rock Of Gibraltar||Aidan O’Brien||Michael Kinane|
Yep, 10 of the last 16 renewals of the Dewhurst have been won by horses from the Aidan O’Brien or Jim Bolger yards, and both look set to duke it out once more in 2017.
Here is your cut-out and keep guide to the three key runners in this year’s Dewhurst Stakes:
Expert Eye (4/7)
The heavy favourite and one that heads to Newmarket with just two wins under his belt. But it was the latter of those, the Vintage Stakes, where he bolted home in front of a decent enough field at Goodwood.
Trainer Sir Michael Stoute knows a thing or two about saddling winners, and he has been glowing about his young charge. “You would have to say he’s the best two-year-old I have had for quite a while,” the knight of the realm said. “He’s been pretty natural from the beginning.”
But as hinted, there is still plenty we don’t know about Expert Eye. The ground is said to be softening at Newmarket after Friday rain, and conditions are now resolutely autumnal. Will that suit the two-year-old? We just don’t know, and there’s plenty of smart money to be had elsewhere.
Quite frankly, we can sleep easy missing out on a 4/7 winner given the question marks still outstanding.
John Gosden paid a pretty penny for Emaraaty as a yearling – 2.6 million guineas to be exact. So it was strange to hear him say the other day that ‘we will get a good idea of the level he is at on Saturday.’
That’s an unusual thing for a trainer to say ahead of a Group 1 outing, but then it is perhaps justified seeing as though the horse has never ran in such company before.
The bookmakers are pricing up on potential, rather than proven quality here, and that’s always a danger to punters. If Expert Eye is as good as people say he is, then it is hard to get interested in Emaraaty.
U S Navy Flag (8/1)
In stark contrast to Expert Eye and Emaraaty comes U S Navy Flag, a veritable nine-race veteran at the age of two.
His early career did not identify a talent of any sort, and it has only been since the beginning of July that he has begun to impress with a formline of 1-1-4-2-1.
The first of those came in a Plus 10 at Curragh, where he stayed on really strongly and suggested a step up in trip from 6f to 7f should not present any problems.
His last two outings have been even more impressive. He won by six lengths on yielding ground at Curragh again in August, and followed that with the first Group 1 victory of his career in the Middle Park Stakes at Goodwood.
That shows forward motion if nothing else, and any opportunity to back an progressive 8/1 sort against a pair of fledgling favourites should be taken with relish.