Wednesday 22 February 2017

Hoping to spot a summer star in fading autumn light

RONAN GROOME

Published 18/09/2011 | 05:00

It was around this time last year a champion announced his arrival. Not that onlookers on a dreary and dull Friday evening at Newmarket knew anything about it. It looked like a good maiden on the card, a match between the two newcomers, Frankel and Nathaniel, and that's the way it worked out. The two promising colts pulled five lengths clear of their field. Nothing more than that at the time.

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The next day, on an average card at Doncaster, Godolphin filly Blue Bunting was fancied to land odds of 6/4 in a one-mile maiden. She had to fight hard to fend off the runner-up, the pair of them pulling clear. But you weren't getting any fancy quotes for the big races after this performance. Just another nice prospect, that could be anything.

The two-year-old thoroughbred is a delicate creature. Some say it shouldn't be asked to race so early in its life. Not yet fully grown, and not yet conditioned properly to withstand the stress of racing. It's therefore feasible to assume that two-year-old form, while important in showing early potential, may at times be misleading.

Take for example, the current betting for the Newmarket 1,000 Guineas. Aidan O'Brien's Maybe has looked exceptional this year in winning five races and is as short as 3/1 with some bookmakers to take the one-mile fillies' Classic next year.

But recent history would suggest she might well be in fact too good a two-year-old to win the 1,000 Guineas. Daft it may sound, but the stats let you know that only three of the last 15 1,000 Guineas winners were Group One winners in their juvenile season. The likelihood is that there is a Blue Bunting lurking in the background, perhaps not yet seen at the racecourse, or perhaps yet to have realised its full potential.

The trick is trying to find this hidden gem, a difficult task to say the least but one of the great fascinations in a Flat racing season during the autumn.

In recent weeks, John Oxx's pair Born To Sea and Akeed Mofeed, Roger Charlton's Top Offer, and Mark Prescott's Albaspina have all quietly come across as potential Classic contenders for next season.

The word quietly probably doesn't count for the first-named, which, after his first run, will have a tremendous height of expectation when he reappears this season. The last foal born out of the remarkable Arc-winning mare Urban Sea was good enough to win on his racecourse debut, and, in doing so, did what his more illustrious brother, Sea The Stars, failed to do.

What's more, the race Born To Sea won was a listed race at The Curragh, against more experienced and proven sorts. He quickened up in the style of a good horse to leave form analysts drooling.

Oxx is a trainer who could never be accused of rushing his horses along and it is for that reason perhaps that he tends to hit top form at this time of the year. He can also look forward to running Akeed Mofeed again this season. The son of Dubawi impressed with the way he accounted for a bad draw and some useful rivals in a seven-furlong maiden run on Champion Stakes day at Leopardstown two weeks ago. A sign of the high regard he is held in can be amounted from the race he goes for next, the Group Two Beresford Stakes at The Curragh next week, a race Oxx trained Alamshar, Azamour and Sea The Stars to win.

Across the sea, Roger Charlton made no secret of the fact that he held Top Offer in the highest regard prior to his debut last month at Newbury, and the son of Dansili produced a visually impressive performance over seven furlongs. Although slowly away, Top Offer cruised up to track the leaders, moved up stylishly to take it up two furlongs out and the race was over in a matter of strides soon after.

Albaspina was another which caught the eye when making a winning debut at Carlisle for Prescott. Never really travelling, you wouldn't have backed her with a free bet at any stage of the race before the two-furlong pole, and it was only here that she excelled. The performance screamed of potential, which makes for an attractive profile given the large scope for improvement.

There are lots of jigsaw pieces to fill in still and lots more to learn in the coming weeks. The Dewhurst, the Racing Post Trophy and the Cheveley Park Stakes are all big Group Ones of which the winner will go into the winter with serious ambitions, but take notice of the lesser prestige maidens getting busy at this time of year as well, for they are just as important trials.

Sunday Indo Sport

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