Talking Horses: where have all the classy two-year-olds gone?

Chris Cook
<span>Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Like me, you were probably taken aback at the news that the Vertem Futurity, lost to the weather along with the rest of Doncaster’s card on Saturday, is to be restaged on the all-weather at Newcastle on Friday evening. Newmarket, which is still referred to by some as the headquarters of British Flat racing, is staging action on Friday and Saturday – why not just send the race there?

The answer, of course, is that Newmarket is owned by the Jockey Club, whereas the Vertem Futurity belongs to the ARC group of racecourses, which quite naturally wants to keep the valuable and prestigious contest at one of its tracks. And here we are once again, deep in racing realpolitik.

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But, on reflection, this is not the bit of the story to worry about. After all, why shouldn’t Newcastle have a top-class Flat race, at least once? Horses like Enable and Stradivarius have had happy early experiences on the Tapeta surface there. Vertem, the Futurity sponsors, are based in Newcastle. There’s already top-class races demanding our attention on Friday evening (I’m thinking of the Breeders’ Cup action from Santa Anita, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention), so the Futurity can be a juicy build-up to that.

The thing to worry about is whether there’s still enough classy two-year-olds around Europe to stock the top-class staying races for them which we currently maintain. From the five-day stage, there was only one British-trained entrant for the Futurity last week. In France yesterday, Longchamp’s Criterium International was a two-horse race. At least there were eight in Saint-Cloud’s Criterium the day before but three of them were Aidan O’Brien’s.

Is it time to kill off at least one of these races, so that the others can remain competitive? Well, it might be but no one in a position of power wants to make that decision. Vested interest will ensure that these races continue as long as at least two horses show up. When I approached the British Horseracing Authority last week to ask if the Futurity race conditions needed to be examined, I was told this was a racecourse issue and I should take it up with Doncaster or ARC.

I’m told that ARC will, in fact, conduct a review of the race in the coming weeks, to see if it can be made more attractive to potential runners. I’d guess they will look at reducing the cost of a supplementary entry, among other things.

In fairness, the Futurity was going as strong as ever until last week. A year ago, the finish was fought out by Magna Grecia and Phoenix Of Spain, who both won a Guineas this year. The year before, Saxon Warrior and Roaring Lion duked it out at Doncaster; they won five Group Ones between them the next season.

Magna Grecia and Saxon Warrior, of course, were both trained by Aidan O’Brien, who has no problem getting his hands on the right material for these two-year-old races. But if other trainers struggle to do so, what future is there for these contests?

Monday’s best bets

With the Rose Dobbin yard back among the winners, I’m tempted by the 16-1 about Attention Please (2.45) at Ayr, which stages the only racing. With a couple of ‘P’s in his form figures, he was never likely to attract much attention in the market but he could benefit from his outing at Kelso three weeks ago, his first run since February when the yard was struggling with a virus.

A year ago, he was also pulled up on his first run of the season in mid-October but then did much better to be second in this very race, beaten only by a Gavin Cromwell raider after starting at 33-1. His rating went up when he won at Musselburgh in December but he’s back down to a beatable rating in an open-looking contest.

Aurora Thunder (1.00) has the best form in the opener and can be backed at 5-2, while I’m surprised to see Rightdownthemiddle (3.20) drifting to 2-1 for the staying handicap hurdle. This veteran is back with Gordon Elliott, having dropped two stones down the ratings during a 10-month spell with Sean Curran. Maybe this won’t be his day but I wouldn’t be betting against him.

The nap is at Kempton, where Bryn Du (5.30) runs in a nursery with Oisin Murphy taking over in the saddle. William Haggas’s lowly rated colt put up his best effort yet in a first-time tongue tie when third at Newcastle recently and gets to run from the same mark here. He’s 6-4.

1.00 Aurora Thunder 1.35 Order Of Thistle 2.10 Three Is Company 2.45 Attention Please (nb) 3.20 Rightdownthemiddle 3.55 Dusty’s Choice

4.25 Shining 4.55 Almareekh 5.30 Bryn Du (nap) 6.00 Back From Dubai 6.30 Thumur 7.00 Piece Of History 7.30 Firelight 8.00 Natty Night

Abandoned (waterlogging)

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