Dewhurst attracts field of dreams
International form students could get one of those rare opportunities to examine the merits of a number of top juveniles in Europe when one of the strongest fields in recent memory lines up for today's Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket.
On a programme of racing billed as Champions Day, two-year-olds such as Daggers Drawn, Central Park and the up-and-coming Tamarisk are all set to battle it out over the final seven furlongs of the Rowley Mile. On paper, it appears a contest to savour.
'It is a very rare opportunity indeed to see the best taking on each other - and personally I'm delighted,' said Matthew Tester, whose responsibility it is to rate the two-year-olds in England. 'Leading up to the race, everthing is marshmallow, but after it, it should be in stone.' But what of Xaar? Well, it could be a play on words; it is more likely to be a battle of tactics on both sides, but connections of the classy Xaar have declared the French-trained colt would miss the race if the word 'soft' appears in the going description.
On Thursday, the ground was good to soft, and it was one of those rare days on which horses were finishing tired as they hit the rising ground inside the final furlong. The Puzzler, who took the Olivier Douieb Handicap, came from last after looking a 50-1 chance a furlong out.
Obviously, the ground has softened up significantly, and despite an encouraging weather forecast for improved and brighter weather today, there will be fears among officials that one of their big drawcards could be absent when required.
Grant Pritchard-Gordon, racing manager to Khalid Abdullah, Xaar's owner, warned punters to hold their bets on the impressive three-length winner of the Prix de la Salamandre. The Tote, who opened their ante-post book with Xaar at 15-8 earlier in the week, have suspended betting.
'In view of the uncertain weather forecast and the present description of good to soft going at Newmarket, we feel it is only fair to warn punters that Xaar will not run if there is any reference to 'soft' in the going description on Saturday morning,' said Pritchard-Gordon.
Predictably, Nick Lees, the clerk of the course, responded to Pritchard-Gordon with a positive forecast.
'It's unlikely the word soft will appear,' he said, hinting that a play on words could always be an option.
'I will be telephoning Andre Fabre [Xaar's trainer] but I suspect the ground will be good on Saturday. I am not expecting any rain and the forecast is for good and warm weather.' Above all, however, Newmarket officials have one big factor in their favour as they attempt to attract the best juvenile field of the season and one that is likely to give the most informative clues to next year's Classic puzzle. A fresh strip of ground 30 yards wide has been set aside for Champions Day.
Connections of Central Park and the supplemented Tamarisk are also in a bullish mood. Paul Cole said of Central Park: 'He came through his last piece of work yesterday. Seven furlongs is the minimum trip for our horse and that is the only drawback. It's difficult sometimes to get a proper pace over seven furlongs.
'They'll be a bit nervous about going too fast in this ground. I am quite happy with him though I shall not run him if there's an F in the going,' he said in response to news of the Abdullah requirements.
Harry Herbert, spokesman for Highclere Thoroughbred Racing Limited, reports Tamarisk, an impressive Newmarket winner at his last outing, to be 'in great form'.