Donn's Articles » Juveniles of 2010

Juveniles of 2010

If racehorses were football players, then the juvenile class of 2010 would be Manchester United youth side of 1992. For Beckham, Giggs, Neville and Butt, read Frankel, Dream Ahead, Saamidd and Wootton Bassett. Add the Irish element Pathfork, Casamento and perhaps Zoffany, and we could be looking at a golden generation of thoroughbred racehorses.

The first six in the betting for next year’s 2000 Guineas have between them won 18 times and suffered defeat just once, when Casamento went down by a fast-diminishing head to Pathfork in the Group 1 National Stakes, the pair of them clear. That is the only occasion on which any of the six met to date, and therein lies the intrigue, the fascinating impossibility of ranking them in order of ability.

Most of the talk surrounds Frankel. Unbeaten in three, the son of Galileo looked good when he won a conditions race at Doncaster by 13 lengths, and he looked even better when he won the Group 2 Royal Lodge by 10. However, the best price you will get about him for next year’s Guineas is 9/4, and that is far too short given that there are still so many imponderables. He is a lovely colt, and the filly that finished second to him at Doncaster, Rainbow Springs, ran a cracker to finish third in the Prix Marcel Boussac at Longchamp on Sunday, but he still has a huge amount to prove.

For starters, there is always a chance that a prolific juvenile is merely more precocious than his peers, not superior to them. Many people have said that Frankel looks like a three-year-old already, which is a worry for Frankel fans as he may not have as much scope for progression as some of his contemporaries.

Also, Frankel has never contested a Group 1 race. He has been visually impressive in both of his last two starts, but the time that he clocked in the Royal Lodge was two seconds slower than the time that Poet’s Voice clocked in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes run over the same course and distance two hours later, the horses that he beat there were not top class. Also, the Royal Lodge isn’t exactly the quintessential Guineas trial.

Trainer Henry Cecil obviously regards Prince Khalid Abdullah’s colt highly, the trainer has said that Frankel is probably the best juvenile that he has had since Wollow, who won the Guineas under Frankie Dettori’s dad in 1976. However, you feel that Frankel’s restricted odds for the Classic are as much down to the hype generated by the visual impression of his victories, and fuelled by the comments of his usually reticent trainer, as they are to the substance of his achievements to date.

We should learn a lot more about Frankel next Saturday, when he steps into Group 1 company for the first time in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket. It looks like Dream Ahead is going to take him on there, and that will be an enthralling clash. In contrast to Frankel, Dream Ahead has contested two Group 1 races, and he has won them both, the latest, the Middle Park Stakes, by nine lengths in a performance that was at least as visually impressive as the one that Frankel put up in winning the Royal Lodge.

The two potential worries about Dream Ahead in the context of both the Dewhurst and the Guineas are the distance and the ground. By champion sprinter Diktat out of a Cadeaux Genereux mare, he is admittedly related to middle-distance horses, but he has shown lots of speed in winning three times now over six furlongs. Also, he seemed to relish the easy ground at Newmarket last weekend, and a fast-ground Dewhurst or a fast-ground Guineas would be a little bit of a worry for the David Simcock-trained colt.

Simcock’s is not a name that you readily associate with Classic success. Nor is Jessica Harrington’s or Richard Fahey’s or Michael Halford’s. All proven top class trainers, but all Classic virgins. The Irish theme runs deep. Fahey is a County Louth man plying his trade in the north of England, and his handling of Wootton Bassett this season so far has been exemplary. Winner of his previous four races, including two valuable sales races, the Iffraaj colt bounced himself into the middle of the Guineas picture with an emphatic pillar-to-post victory in last Sunday’s Group 1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Longchamp.

The Jessica Harrington-trained Pathfork has been a Classic contender since he won the Group 2 Futurity Stakes, and he followed up by landing the Group 1 National Stakes. However, owned by Kentuckians, his next intended engagement is in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs on 6th November, and there has to be a chance that he will contest the Kentucky Derby at the same track on the first Saturday in May next year instead of the 2000 Guineas.

The Michael Halford-trained Casamento confirmed the promise of his narrow defeat to Pathfork when he ran out an impressive winner of the Group 2 Beresford Stakes at The Curragh at the end of last month. A big scopey individual who has plenty of potential for progression, he is on track for the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster on 23rd October as his season’s swansong.

After that, it’s all sights trained on the next year, the Classic season. Let’s see what trophies these kids can win.

© The Sunday Times, 10th October 2010