On Geegeez last Thursday I wrote: ‘The juvenile scene is set for a shake-up over the next few days.’ I then added: ‘Always tricky from a punting prospective, these juvenile events are nevertheless a terrific spectacle.’
The following few days at Newmarket certainly delivered spectacle and shocks in equal measure, with several juvenile reputations enhanced, but many left in tatters.
It would be more than harsh to say that Lady Aurelia's reputation was shredded on the Rowley Mile. Yet her defeat was certainly a shock, and not only to the punters who ‘lumped on’ as if defeat was unthinkable. Her trainer Wesley Ward was clearly stunned by her failure to see out the six-furlongs in the Cheveley Park Stakes, and told Channel 4 Racing: “It's a humbling game. With great expectations come big disappointments. There were no excuses. She bounced out there and Frankie was bounding away in front, but when he called on her it just wasn't there the last bit.”
In truth, the dynamic filly had been pulling Dettori’s arms out of their sockets from the off. She has explosive speed from the gate, and was soon scorching ahead of a classy field. To all that witnessed the event there is no doubting that the stiff Newmarket finish was her downfall. Five furlongs is her trip, and trying to get her to stay further may prove futile. Of course there’s a chance that from the age of two to three she matures and learns how to settle, and that extra furlong becomes less of an obstacle.
Clearly Ward is hopeful that a three-year-old Lady Aurelia will handle a six-furlong trip, when he added: “Ours is a special filly and hopefully we'll get home and back in the right shape and come over next year for Ascot and the Commonwealth Cup or whatever it is. I expected her to win today. I laid it out there on everybody. She showed in Ascot that five furlongs is just right but I expected her to win today and I laid her out for this.”
Equiano was the last three-year-old to win the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot, and with the introduction of the Commonwealth Cup, specifically for that age group, the chances of a Classic generation winner have greatly reduced. Personally I would be surprised, even shocked, if Wes Ward’s flying filly were not to be aimed at emulating Equiano rather than keeping to her own age group over the extended trip. Saturday’s defeat, rather than damaging her reputation, merely confirmed what many of us believed, that she is a sensational sprinter over the minimum trip.
One classy filly that now needs to ‘bounce back’ after the Cheveley defeat is Queen Kindly. The Lowther winner raced prominently, with Jamie Spencer seemingly keen to keep Lady Aurelia in his sights. However, the scorching pace set by Ward’s filly appeared to break Spencer’s mount, and though she stuck on bravely, she was the first of the principles to falter. My personal opinion is that she got involved in the ‘burn-up’ a little too soon, and I would remain hopeful that she could still develop into a classy sprinter.
Roly Poly was also given a positive ride by Ryan Moore, but this battle-hardened filly refused to crack under the intense pressure and only just missed out on a wonderfully gutsy victory. In the end she was nabbed on the line by stablemate Brave Anna, who under an excellent ride from Seamie Heffernan, came late to steal the prize. At 25/1 she’d been overlooked as a potential winner, but she was held a little off the pace and delivered latest of all by the outstanding Heffernan.
O’Brien’s pair are bred to stay further, and should develop into Guineas and possibly Oaks fillies. They both have plenty of size and ought to improve for the winter. Nothing is assured from two to three, but these certainly have the potential to take high order next season.
Heffernan had almost won the Royal Lodge earlier in the afternoon, when a fast finishing second on another Ballydoyle 25/1 shot. The Anvil is a strapping raw juvenile, beautifully bred, as you would expect, and found his stride just too late to take the Group 2. Ballydoyle have such riches at their disposal, but this fella impressed me, and he could develop into a really nice sort.
Best Of Days took the race for Hugo Palmer and in the process gave a timely tonic to jockey James Doyle. He’d been told this week, that he is no longer number one jockey with Saeed bin Suroor, putting his Godolphin future in some doubt. Palmer could not have been happier with both horse and jockey when telling Channel 4 Racing: “I was worried about the ground and he was a little bit jarred up after York, so I told James that when he hit the rising ground he'd got to get him into top gear and just believe he'll stay. He delivered that to the letter.”
Palmer went on to say: “We're going to dream until the Derby, or a Derby trial, that he is a Derby horse. He is by a King George winner in Azamour and out of a mare by High Chaparral who obviously stayed a mile and a half as well.”
With one major winner at 25/1, and another missing out by a neck, it was time for a third at 25s to sting the punters. The Last Lion had been kept busy by Mark Johnston throughout the Summer, and had been running consistently well in lofty company. Nevertheless, he was overlooked as a potential winner of the Middle Park Stakes, with Blue Point and Mehmas expected to fight out the finish.
At 46, Joe Fanning has ridden a multitude of winners for Johnston, but never at Group 1 level. He set about dictating from the front, and though Blue Point threatened late on, The Last Lion was not for passing. When necessary, he found plenty for pressure, holding off the Godolphin favourite by just under a length, with Mehmas a couple of lengths further back.
Fanning must have been thrilled, though you wouldn’t have known it from the calm manner with which he spoke to Channel 4 immediately after the biggest success of his career. He said: “He is a good horse. He has been tough all year. His owner, John Brown, said if he finished fifth he would be delighted with him. I thought it (the ground) might be against him today, but it didn't seem to bother him. I am delighted. I've ridden about 27 Group 2s and 3s. I needed to get that Group 1. It is great that it's on my Birthday. It took a long time!”
Charlie Appleby appeared pleased enough with his runner-up and pointed to a likely target in 2017, when saying: “Blue Point has no real excuses as he had a nice horse to aim at but just couldn't get to him. He's run his race as we had Mehmas behind us today so the form is good. I think that will be it for now with him, and we will put him away to prepare for the Commonwealth Cup.”
Juvenile upsets were not exclusive to Saturday, with Fair Eva again turned over at short odds when failing to cope with French raider Spain Burg in the Group 2 Rockfel Stakes on Friday. Dettori was onboard the winner, and she was mightily impressive when sweeping past the favourite in the final furlong. A shot at the 1000 Guineas next Spring now looks on the cards, and she’s been installed as one of the favourites for the Fillies Classic.
It truly was an incredible few days, with so much food for thought. From a punting point of view, it proved to be something of a ‘head-scratcher’, yet no less enjoyable for that.