The Future Champions Festival begins tomorrow at Newmarket and promises to be a thriller.
Aidan O’Brien is just two shy of the world record Group/Grade One winners for a calendar year, set by American trainer Bobby Frankel in 2003. With fancied runners in the Fillies Mile on Friday and the Dewhurst on Saturday, there’s a chance the master of Ballydoyle could draw level on 25 winners.
For that to come to fruition, he would have to defeat one of the summer’s most exciting juveniles, and current favourite for the 2018 Guineas, Expert Eye. Sir Michael Stoute’s youngster put in a devastating display last time at Goodwood in winning the Group Two Vintage Stakes. With just a couple of runs under his belt, he’ll be up against more experienced two-year-olds, including O’Brien’s Group One Middle Park winner, U S Navy Flag.
Stoute sounded confident in the ability of his youngster, when saying: “He seems in good shape. I contemplated going to the Curragh but he had a bit of an issue when we scoped him. That knocked that out of the way so we trained him for the Dewhurst. We've had precocious two-year-olds, but we don't seem to get them nowadays. This fellow just came along and was naturally precocious. You would have to say that he’s the best two-year-old that I have had for quite a while. He’s been pretty natural from the beginning.”
The trainer added: “Before we ran him we knew that he was pretty smart as he has always shown speed and been very athletic. And then, when we were preparing him for Goodwood, we began to realise just how good he was. The form has worked out but this is quite a while later. We have had plenty of time to prepare him for this so there will be no excuses.
“The Dewhurst looks a tough race. In the past we never had to go up against a battalion like Aidan’s, it’s quite incredible really. Let’s just see what happens on Saturday. Andrea Atzeni will again be riding him, but I would be surprised if he gets beyond a mile as a three-year-old. I am having a resurgence. I am very happy with the way that the summer has gone and my whole team has done a great job.”
John Gosden is another trainer having a season to remember, and he has a leading contender in the Hamdan Al Maktoum owned Emaraaty. He’s a well-fancied third-favourite for the race, despite this being a completely different proposition from the race he won at Newbury.
The owner’s racing manager, Angus Gold, said: “I watched Emaraaty work on the Limekilns on Saturday morning and he is in fine physical shape. Jim Crowley rode him and was very pleased with him. It is a big step up from a maiden to a Group One and I would be stupid to assure you that he was going to beat horses like Expert Eye on Saturday. But he’s a very quick colt with great potential and we are very hopeful that he will be a Group One horse at some point in his career.”
A day prior to the Dewhurst, it’s the fillies that take centre-stage. Following her success at Longchamp, Aidan O’Brien’s Happily looks a worthy favourite for the Group One Fillies’ Mile. Doing her best work at the end of the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere, the final climb to the finish on the Rowley Mile should prove ideal.
September is also set to take her place for Team Ballydoyle, and should be better suited by conditions having got a little ‘stuck in the mud’ on her previous two starts. She was mightily impressive on quick ground at Royal Ascot, when comfortably accounting for a classy pair in Nyaleti and Masar.
If O’Brien is to be beaten, then Godolphin’s Magic Lilly may be the one. It’s a tough ask for one with so little experience (one career outing), but her performance on debut at Newmarket was eye-catching. She’s exceptionally bred, being by Derby winner New Approach, out of the Oaks winning mare Dancing Rain.
“Magic Lily is a filly we were confident would run a nice race on her first start, but she ended up winning very impressively and seeing out the one-mile trip really well,” said trainer Charlie Appleby.
“She did a nice piece of work on Saturday and that made our minds up to supplement her. She has worked together with my recent Prix Marcel Boussac winner, Wild Illusion, and worked well. The Dubai Future Champions Festival is an important festival for the whole Godolphin team. I’ve been lucky to have winners there in the past and it’s good to have a few live contenders, including Magic Lily, this year.”
Though the highlight of the two days is undoubtedly the juvenile events, we also get the opportunity to see one of the most talented sprinters back on the track. It’s proved a frustrating campaign for five-year-old Limato, but his trainer Henry Candy will be hopeful of a change in fortunes tomorrow.
With drier conditions at HQ, he looks to run his stable star in the Group Two Challenge Stakes at seven-furlongs. “It has been infuriating to have a horse of his calibre and not be able to do anything with him," Candy said. “I am very happy with his condition at the moment and looking forward to running him on Friday. His defeat in the Lennox Stakes was 80 per cent down to the ground, which was riding soft. We talked ourselves into running him that day when we shouldn’t have.”
The trainer added: “At least it’s been no problem keeping a lid on him at home without a race, as he is a very free worker and keeps himself pretty fit. This seven-furlong trip should be fine. I think he is capable of winning Group races at anything between six furlongs and a mile, and I don’t see any problem with him handling the Rowley Mile as he is very light on his feet. This is likely to be his final start of the season and, although we are toying with the idea of trying him over a mile again next year, we will go wherever the ground is right.”