The Cesarewitch Handicap takes place on Saturday October 8 at Newmarket, and this weekend sees the trial at the Rowley Mile.
David Pipe struck last year with his eight-year-old gelding Low Key. Unfortunately, Pipe’s horse failed to shine in the main event several weeks later when sent off the 13/2 favourite. In the trial event of 2014, fellow Jumps trainer Philip Hobbs saddled Big Easy to finish second. Unlike Low Key, he made that experience count, when winning the Cesarewitch itself just three weeks later.
Established in 1839, the Cesarewitch became part of the ‘Autumn Double’ along with the Cambridgeshire Handicap. Run over a trip of two miles and two furlongs, it has become a popular target for Jumps trainers, and they have had plenty of success in recent times. Hobbs, Henderson, Pipe Snr, Tony Martin and Alan King, have all tasted victory in the past dozen or so years.
Along with National Hunt trainers holding a strong hand, the winners have often struck at huge odds. Three of the past four have landed the prize at odds of 66/1, 66/1 and 50/1. Experience has proved key in winning the showpiece in October. Only one three-year-old has struck gold since the turn of the century, and in that time three seven-year-olds, two aged eight and an 11-year-old have been successful.
So what of Saturday’s trial? The obvious place to start is the contenders that are usually seen plying their trade over obstacles during the winter.
Oceane is trained by Alan King and owned by the McNeill Family. The same connections took last year’s Cesarewitch with the 50/1 shot Grumeti. The pair have similar profiles, having proved to be more than useful juvenile hurdlers. Oceane has already shown his ability on the flat, winning a valuable handicap at York’s Ebor meeting last time out. He’s gone up 5lbs for that win, but as a four-year-old should be capable of progressing further.
Charlie Appleby now handles the ex-John Ferguson hurdler Penglai Pavilion. Under Ferguson the six-year-old was more than useful over timber, winning at Cheltenham last October. He ran a decent race in the Old Newton Cup in July, over an inadequate trip, and this step-up looks sure to suit. It’s hard to believe that he was fifth in the Arc of 2013 behind the mighty Treve. He’s now a stayer, and is likely to make his presence felt on Saturday.
I mentioned the David Pipe trained Low Key earlier in the piece. He won last year’s trial before somewhat disappointing in the ‘big one’. He’s had three spins over hurdles since then, and ran well first time out at Kempton behind Brother Tedd. He ran at Worcester in June, though performed poorly off top weight. It’s hard to gauge how well he’ll run on this occasion, though he proved last year he has the ability when everything falls in place.
Pipe may well have three for the main event in October. Starchitect was competitive over hurdles in the spring, going close in three valuable handicaps at Newbury, Cheltenham and Aintree. He then landed a handicap at Salisbury at the end of May. And Ennistown was acquired from the John Ferguson camp, and won well over an extended trip at Cartmel over hurdles last month.
“The intention is for Starchitect to go straight to the Cesarewitch without another run,” said Pipe earlier in the week. “He did it well at Salisbury and then got balloted out at Royal Ascot, so he has had a nice break. Low Key will go for the Cesarewitch Trial at Newmarket on Saturday - which he won last year - and we will see how he gets on there before committing him to the big race itself.”
Of his third contender Pipe added: “Ennistown was impressive at Cartmel and though his flat rating of 100 means that he will definitely get in the Cesarewitch it is a tough mark for him to win off. But he has never run over extreme distances on the flat and we thought that it was worth a go. It’s a big prize and us jump trainers love to have runners in it as it fits the profile of our horses well. I have been second and third in it with Mamlook and would very much like to win it one day.”
Saturday looks sure to give clues, with the main event just weeks away.