Sequence of 2yo surprises at Newmarket as racing looks ahead to Sunday’s Arc

HES THE MAN! -- Frankie Dettori, pictured with a fan, celebrates this week the 20th anniversary of his Magnificent Seven feat when he rode all seven winners at a big meeting at Ascot in 1996.
HES THE MAN! -- Frankie Dettori, pictured with a fan, celebrates this week the 20th anniversary of his Magnificent Seven feat when he rode all seven winners at a big meeting at Ascot in 1996.

The sound of bubbles bursting and the smell of fingers burning are still in the air on the Rowley Mile after a Cambridgeshire meeting at Newmarket laced with surprises.

The reputations of a string of well-regarded and heavily backed 2yo favourites went west in East Anglia, leaving many a punter shellshocked.

Trainer Hugo Palmer set the ball rolling on the opening day of the excellent three-day meeting when his 2,000 Guineas hope ESCOBAR was eclipsed in the Group Three Tattersalls Stakes, only half an hour after stablemate UNFORGETABLE FILLY had gone under at a similarly prohibitive price in a new Conditions race for juvenile fillies.

Twenty-four hours later, FAIR EVA, classy daughter of Frankel, was found wanting as a 4-9 favourite for the Group Two Rockfel Stakes. And while Palmer found redemption on the final day with BEST OF DAYS in the Group Two Royal Lodge Stakes, the biggest upsets of all were around the corner as the speed of LADY AURELIA and BLUE POINT were blunted in the Group One double-header of the Cheveley Park Stakes and the Middle Park Stakes.

Excuses for the Group-race turn-ups were not obvious, particularly as all four juveniles concerned looked in fine nick in the paddock. Thankfully Palmer came up with a perfectly acceptable one for the powerful Escobar, who scoped dirty afterwards, which would explain why he dropped away so tamely. He’s still on target for the Guineas next spring but will now be given a prep race, probably in the Greenham at Newbury on April 22.

Fair Eva looked sure to be suited by the step-up in trip to 7f after being exposed for toe in the Lowther Stakes at York. But I was surprised to see her ridden so aggressively and handily by Pat Smullen, and even more surprised that she failed to find enough when asked to pick up. Smullen felt she’s still immature and will improve markedly for a winter on her back, but question marks hover over her now, particularly as her York conqueror, QUEEN KINDLY, another daughter of Frankel, also let the form and her dad down in the Cheveley Park.

Richard Fahey’s charge fared even worse than Lady Aurelia and on quick ground in a truly-run race, it was hard to invent an explanation for such a fast filly. Except maybe for the fact that Saturday’s racing was undoubtedly blighted by a raging headwind that inexperienced juveniles could not have found comfortable to handle.

The conditions certainly affected Lady Aurelia, who didn’t help herself by carting Frankie Dettori through the first 2f before predictably falling in a hole up the hill of the final furlong. On this evidence, it’s 5f or bust for the Royal Ascot heroine, notwithstanding the fact that she was later found to have bled.

The circumstances behind Lady Aurelia’s demise piled extra credit on THE LAST LION for trumping Blue Point and co in the Middle Park. Because Mark Johnston’s colt not only raced from the front into the teeth of the wind, but also found more when challenged at the business end by Charlie Appleby’s impressive Gimcrack Stakes winner.

The Last Lion has been touched off in many of the top juvenile gigs this term and somehow reversed form with the favourite amounting to nearly five lengths from York. But he’s an admirably consistent son of Choisir whose physical appearance reflects the durability he has shown since landing the Brocklesby Stakes at Doncaster way back on April 2. Indeed Johnston revealed that he’s been on the go since February 24, the date of his first serious piece of work at home.

On this occasion, I’m inclined to heap praise on the victor, rather than seek excuses for the vanquished. I felt Blue Point did little wrong, travelling strongly and picking up, and he remains an exciting powerhouse of a prospect for sprinting prizes, starting with the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot next June.

The son of Shamardal was still beaten, though, and by the time the Cambridgeshire itself came along, many racegoers were already on the ropes and unlikely to be set alight by SPARK PLUG, a winner fancied in some quarters but not with the logic normally applied to a horse triumphing for the first time in 12 starts.

The sequence of juvenile jolts flew in the face of recent evidence too. The undulating nature of the Rowley Mile track, particularly its Dip from 2f to 1f, can find out even seasoned campaigners, yet alone colts and fillies learning their trade. But curiously, over the previous ten years, according to statistics unearthed by Dave Nevison, of Racing UK, outright favourites in all 2yo Group One and Group Two races at Newmarket in the autumn were showing a 44% strike rate and a profit of almost 12%. Stats worth bearing in mind perhaps for Future Champions Weekend on the same undulations next week.

...............................

WHILE most of the sporting world will be entranced by the latest Ryder Cup showdown on Sunday, the focus of racing enthusiasts will be more than 1,000 miles from Minnesota. For the small French town of Chantilly hosts one of the highlights of the racing year. Indeed arguably the most illustrious Flat race on the calendar, the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

The switch to Chantilly, while Longchamp is given a facelift, will not rob the contest of its lustre. But the sorry withdrawal of one of the leading fancies, LA CRESSONNIERE, most certainly will. The brilliant filly, unbeaten in all starts, has been ruled out by a minor injury and, surprisingly, her trainer, Jean-Claude Rouget, has seemed reluctant to let equally talented stablemate ALMANZOR, winner of a mindblowing renewal of the Irish Champion, to replace her. He hammered at least five of Sunday’s Arc challengers in Leopardstown but remains on course, instead, for Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot.

The loss of La Cressonniere has been compounded by the likely absence of two other crack 3yo fillies who would surely have had a say -- John Gosden’s ultra-classy SO MI DAR and Aidan O’Brien’s Yorkshire Oaks winner SEVENTH HEAVEN, both of whom have alternative targets. Gosden seems intent on plundering one of Chantilly’s support races, the Prix de l’Opera, for which the daughter of Dubawi must be considered a good thing, while O’Brien is eyeing the Breeders’ Cup to guarantee the fast ground his filly prefers.

All of which leaves the Arc at the apparent mercy of favourite POSTPONED. Providing, of course, you are happy to overlook the fact that only one 5yo has won the great race in the last 28 years -- when Frankie Dettori steered home Marienbard for Saeed Bin Suroor and Godolphin in 2002.

Doyle or no Doyle, Godolphin have a trio of 3yo handicappers well worth following

The utterly bizarre decision by trainer Saeed Bin Suroor to demote James Doyle from the top of his jockey pecking order is rather overshadowing all other things Godolphin at the moment. But the operation still enjoyed a pleasing Cambridgeshire meeting at Newmarket. It was spearheaded by the victory of Derby prospect BEST OF DAYS in the Royal Lodge Stakes, but it also featured notable displays by a trio of 3yo handicappers very much on the up. FRONTIERSMAN, winner of the 12f handicap, is heading for Group company next term, possibly in Cup contests. The handsome GREAT ORDER, just touched off in the 1m handicap, is sure to win more when upped in trip. And VERY TALENTED ran a blinder in the Cambridgeshire itself for a colt so inexperienced.