Juvenile showpiece set to be best in living memory
This year's winner of the Dewhurst looks destined to be a superstar, writes Greg Wood
Published 10/10/2010 | 05:00
'There really is no precedent for it that I can think of," Matthew Tester, Britain's official assessor of the two-year-old horses in training, said this week. "I can't bring to mind any championship race for juveniles when you had two horses going into it with form as outstanding as these two. So all you can say is that it promises to be the best race for two-year-olds in living memory."
Tester is paid to keep calm and carry on, but for once it is proving impossible. Frankel versus Dream Ahead, the nine-length winner of the Middle Park Stakes barely a week ago, in the Dewhurst Stakes for the two-year-old championship of the world will be the biggest draw on the Champions' Day card at Newmarket on Saturday.
That pair also face Saamidd, the Champagne Stakes winner at Doncaster, whose form would make him a worthy favourite for the Dewhurst in most years. This year, he could well be the third choice in the betting.
Trainer David Simcock's positive bulletin yesterday at York on Dream Ahead sent a "let's get it on" mood pumping through the sport. One potential monster of a racehorse is a draw in itself, but two in the same race is unmissable. Whichever wins -- and that includes Saamidd -- will be not just the champion two-year-old of 2010, but an outstanding champion.
There was a sense of the paranormal at Ascot two weeks ago when Frankel won the Royal Lodge Stakes. The opposition was relatively weak for a significant Group Two event, but Frankel galloped straight past them all in a few strides on the home turn -- the hardest place to make ground -- and then went further clear all the way to the line. His time, without any pressure from his opponents, was a second faster than the Group One-class fillies managed half an hour later.
Two-year-olds are not supposed to do things like that, but then they are not supposed to win the Middle Park Stakes by nine lengths. Dream Ahead did, six days after Frankel's romp at Ascot, and suddenly the joy of Saamidd's connections after his win at Doncaster, when Frankie Dettori said that "he's my big horse for next year", was a distant memory.
There may be no obvious precedent for a race like this one, but Frankel's performance, in particular, had echoes of a race that remains burned into the memory of anyone who witnessed it. It was Tester's first thought, too.
"Arazi in the  Breeders' Cup Juvenile is still the gold standard," he says. "He went from almost last to first, breezed past the best two-year-old in America and then slammed him by five lengths. I still watch the video from time to time. I watched it after Frankel won at Ascot.
"Frankel hasn't beaten a field of that quality yet, so you can't say he's reached that standard, but he may well. I canvassed opinion from most of the jockeys who rode in the race, and they almost universally agreed that Frankel is the real deal."
Frankel will be both the instinctive and the sentimental choice for many backers next week, since he is trained by one of the greats in Henry Cecil, and named after another, the US Hall of Fame handler Bobby Frankel, who died in November last year.
Cecil has been winning Group One races again in recent years after several seasons when his career seemed locked into a tailspin, but a return to the winners' enclosure after one of the colts' Classics has so far eluded him.
At this stage, though, it is still possible that Frankel will emerge as the best horse that Cecil has ever trained, a hope that will carry Flat racing through the winter if he can justify his short odds in the Dewhurst on Saturday.
Cecil, though, was also a player in one of the only renewals of the Dewhurst that comes close to next week's anticipated showdown. It was his colt Diesis which took the race in 1982, when the unbeaten wonder horse Gorytus, the hot favourite, ran inexplicably badly. Dick Hern, Gorytus's trainer, believed he had been doped, but whatever the reason, he was never the same horse again.
"The rumour was that it was croton oil [a powerful purgative]," Tester said. "It meant that we didn't get the knockout contest we wanted. This Dewhurst Stakes looks like an unbelievably hot race, so I just hope that whatever wins, wins it really well."