Graham Dench on the Vertem Futurity Trophy

Graham Dench delves into the rich history of the final Group 1 contest of the Flat season, the Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster.

  • Monday 19 October
  • Blog
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It’s gone by a few different names over the years, but through the 60-year history of what we now know as the Vertem Futurity Trophy there has been one constant - quality.

Newmarket’s Dewhurst Stakes might hold bragging rights when it comes to anointing the campaign’s highest-rated two-year-old, but the Vertem Futurity gives it a very a good run for its money as a source of future Classic winners, particularly in recent years, when successive winners Saxon Warrior, Magna Grecia and Kameko have all gone on to land the 2,000 Guineas.

It’s not just the winners who have gone on to establish themselves among racing’s greats either. In 2017 the subsequent Eclipse, Juddmonte International, Irish Champion Stakes and QEII winner Roaring Lion was touched off by Saxon Warrior in what turned out to be the 29th and last running of the race under the Racing Post banner, and way back in 1980, when it was run as the William Hill Futurity, a certain Shergar was beaten comprehensively by Beldale Flutter.

Watch the Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Saturday 24th October.

Originally conceived as the Timeform Gold Cup, it was introduced as a showcase end-of-season event by the company’s founder Phil Bull, who insisted that the British Flat racing programme lacked a showcase mile race for juveniles. For many years it was the season’s richest two-year-old race.

If the Timeform Gold Cup got off to a lukewarm start when 1961 winner Miralgo proved something of an underachiever as a three-year-old, the race’s second winner Noblesse more than made up for it. The filly beat a strong field of colts with ease at Doncaster in 1962 and the following year ran out a ridiculously impressive winner of the Oaks, winning in a canter by ten lengths.

The subsequent Derby seconds Pretendre and Ribocco won what by then was the Observer Gold Cup in 1965 and 1966, and the following year there was an even better winner - almost certainly the race’s best ever.

When Vaguely Noble ran away with the 1967 running he did not have any Classic entries and his only firm engagement was at Tattersalls, where he was due to be sold in order to pay for death duties.

The only race that could justify a then record purchase price of 136,000 guineas was the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and that was obviously a huge gamble. However, in a superbly executed plan Vaguely Noble beat the brilliant Sir Ivor by three lengths in a field that featured no fewer than eight individual Classic winners, before going on to significant success as a stallion.

Vaguely Noble
Vaguely Noble at the time of his record sale of 136,000 guineas.

The race’s first Derby winner was Reference Point, who was the sixth of Sir Henry Cecil’s ten winners of the Futurity when coming home five lengths clear in 1986. Reference Point scored in similarly memorable style at Epsom and then went on to add the St Leger to an impressive CV.

The next winner to go on to Epsom success possibly ought to have been Celtic Swing, whose sensational 12-length defeat of Annus Mirabilis in 1994 earned him an official end-of-season rating of 128, a mark not equalled, let alone bettered, until Pinatubo came along last year.

However, in a decision famously lambasted by the Racing Post as ‘Sad, mad and bad’ Celtic Swing’s owner Peter Savill and trainer Lady Herries opted to run him instead in the Prix du Jockey Club, and while he justified their choice by winning at Chantilly we were all left wondering what might have been.

We had to wait a while longer for the next Derby winner, but there were four more while the Futurity was run as the Racing Post Trophy, with  2001 winner High Chaparral being followed by Motivator in 2004, Authorized in 2006 and most recently Camelot in 2011.

If Vaguely Noble’s Arc success is the greatest subsequent achievement by any winner of the Futurity one could argue that Camelot was unlucky not to be recognised for an even greater distinction.

A highly impressive winner at Doncaster, Camelot started his three-year-old season with success in the 2,000 Guineas and went on to a five-length win at Epsom and another decisive success in the Irish equivalent. It no doubt still smarts at Ballydoyle that only Encke, who subsequently featured prominently in the Mahmood Al Zarooni doping scandal, denied Camelot a historic first Triple Crown since Nijinsky.

Magna Grecia’s win two years ago was Aidan O’Brien’s ninth in the race, and while none of his five runners could lay a glove on Kameko when the Vertem Futurity was switched to Newcastle’s artificial surface for the first time 12 months ago, it can only be a matter of time before he equals Cecil’s record and surpasses it.

Not all of the O’Brien winners have gone on to great things, for 1997 winner Saratoga Spring won only once more, 1999 winner Aristotle ended up racing in Singapore, and the much vaunted 2012 winner Kingsbarns proved especially disappointing.

One, however, proved himself a racing great despite failing to win a Classic. Already favourite for the Derby when beating Elusive Pimpernel by three and a half lengths at Doncaster in 2009, St Nicholas Abbey looked to have the world at his feet, but he only raced once at three, when sixth to Makfi in the 2,000 Guineas.

He more than made up for it though, going on to establish himself as one of the best-loved horses of recent years, his unprecedented three successive wins in the Coronation Cup, plus a Breeders’ Cup Turf and a Sheema Classic, taking his earnings to almost £500,000 before a career-ending injury when still in his prime as a six-year-old.

The dust will not yet have settled on Saturday’s Vertem Futurity Trophy before the pundits have their say on the strength of the form. However, as we have seen, the true worth of the form might not be apparent for another year. Or possibly longer.

Watch the Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Saturday 28th October.

Graham Dench on the Vertem Futurity Trophy
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