In the race towards the 2000 Guineas, representing the five months of this Flat season as five furlongs, there would have been a different leader at the end of each furlong, by no means an unusual pattern for developing juveniles, but even now, ahead of a multi-Group 1 weekend for the two-year-olds, more or less the last meaningful marker ahead of next year, little or nothing is truly refined or defined, hence it’s 10-1 the field for the 2021 Guineas.
The last three Guineas winners have come direct from the Vertem Futurity, a sure sign of the race’s significance, and part of its strength and status is its staging at the end of October, functioning as a last-minute testimony, as well as an assembly point for the finer formlines.
On the tube map that is the fuzzy form of the 2020 two-year-olds, the Vertem Futurity is a junction station for various lines from other symbolic stops, such as the Solario (through King Vega), the Autumn (One Ruler/Megallan), the Royal Lodge (Cobh) and the Champagne (State Of Rest); but the manifest mainline is the one upon which Wembley arrives, powered by Group 1s, namely the National and the Dewhurst.
At the same time that the Dewhurst reflected the light from the National, with the first three all coming from the Curragh, the fact they were in a different order emphasised the messy nature of the National, and Newmarket wasn’t quite the race it promised to be, as some failed to stay, others failed to fire, and a few failed to handle the track.
A few question marks hanging over both the National and the Dewhurst is the reason Wembley is odds-against for the Futurity, when a juvenile from that stable, placed in those two races, would ordinarily be odds-on, virtually regardless of what they’re facing at Doncaster. In short, for a horse who took four goes to break his maiden, and who finds himself in the Futurity almost as an afterthought, here as a bonus for this season rather than a bridge to next season, it doesn’t quite add up for Wembley. His full-brother, Johannes Vermeer, was incidentally beaten into second in this race in 2015 when likewise scrambling from one Group 1 to the next in the autumn.
If there’s an overpriced horse in this year’s Futurity, live on Sky Sports Racing at 2.55 on Saturday, then it’s probably Cobh, for a couple of reasons. Firstly is the view through second-favourite One Ruler, who, in between wins, was beaten further by New Mandate in the Flying Scotsman than Cobh was in the Royal Lodge; and secondly, on the weekend of the Royal Lodge, Adam Kirby was instrumental in the wins of Isabella Giles and Supremacy with a control-and-kick play, though the same strategy didn’t quite chime with Cobh, who’d have benefited from setting a stronger pace in hindsight.
It may be that Cobh is a better stalker, as was the style for his earlier runs, but either way he’s priced up as if the Royal Lodge is actually all he’s got, which is a dangerous assumption, given his previous profile, plus the trainer’s touch with his two-year-olds, Clive Cox having punched above his weight all year in this division.
Whatever the result of the Futurity, it will have a knock-on effect, including on the Guineas betting, for which the door is still wide open for something to break through from left-field, either at the very end of this season or the very start of the next one, from one of the big yards, as I doubt that either Wembley or One Ruler are top of the pecking order at Ballydoyle or Godolphin respectively, which makes me thing the top of the Futurity is somewhat shaky.
The best Godolphin two-year-old, from what we’ve seen, goes to the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud on Saturday live on Sky Sports Racing at 1.35 La Barrosa putting his reputation – and 100% record – on the line. From looking the real deal at Ascot to the raw deal at Newmarket, the reason he didn’t run right away from an ordinary field in the Somerville Tattersalls Stakes, La Barrosa gets his Group 1 chance in France, rather than Yorkshire, and the competition does indeed look a little lighter over there, in a Fabre-free zone for the Criterium International.
The home defence is led by Normandy Bridge and Policy Of Truth, though neither is easy to quantify, from their guesswork graduations, Normandy Bridge going a solo up the stand side when winning a heavy-ground Group 3 over the same course and distance as the International, while Policy Of Truth beat just three rivals when grabbing his Group 3 at Longchamp.
Aidan O’Brien relies on Van Gogh, who split the Futurity-bound pair One Ruler and Megallan in the Autumn Stakes, his fourth defeat in a Group race, but this will be a first Group race for Jadoomi, and it’s well-earned after his demolition job (by 7 lengths) in a pseudo sales races at Longchamp on Arc weekend, a testament to Team Crisford. The jump in class, all the way to a Group 1, is rather more theoretical than practical for Jadoomi, because none of the opposition are yet near the top level themselves, but if La Barrosa is serious about next year’s Classics then he ought to be winning this.
Speaking of next year’s Classics, the first five in the Derby betting are – needless to say – trained by Aidan O’Brien, including Wembley, as well as his team-mate from the Dewhurst, St Mark’s Basilica, whose own stock will rise or fall depending on Doncaster, where Wembley runs for him by proxy. And then there’s Bolshoi Ballet, probably the most intriguing and potentially the most impactful of any of the juveniles running in a Group 1 this weekend.
It was only three weeks ago that Bolshoi Ballet made his debut, at Newmarket, and only a week ago that he won his maiden, at Leopardstown, by 4 lengths, yet Aidan O’Brien propels him straight into a Group 1 for theCriterium de Saint-Cloud, over ten furlongs, live on Sky Sports Racing at 2.50 which Bolshoi Ballet should relish, being a brother to Southern France, who was placed behind Kew Gardens in both the Queen’s Vase and St Leger.
As outlined earlier, in a season where you ask who the best two-year-old is and about half a dozen hands go up, he’s precisely the sort of horse who could clear that blurry bar and put himself in pole position ahead of 2021. A Boudot-boosted Bolshoi Ballet brings the ‘X’ factor to the Criterium de Saint-Cloud, but he still has to look a long way up to see the heels of the headline home acts, one an embryonic star and the other an extraordinary story.
Four from four, each win more impressive than the last, Makaloun is the two-year-old France has been waiting for this year, a finely-tuned front-runner who, despite being by Bated Breath, looks better the further he goes, and he gets an extra furlong to cover on Saturday, on ground on which he’s very much at home.
Then, from the superpower team of Rouget, Soumillon and the Aga Khan, the giant generators of Makaloun, we have the underdog story of the year with Tiger Tanaka, the filly who cost next to nothing and went from winning three claimers in June to landing the Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac on Arc weekend, all along ridden by Jessica Marcialis, inspired by Tiger Tanaka and inspiring to us.
It’s a bonus swing of the bat for Tiger Tanaka, going up against the boys, over a new trip, and she’ll find a horse like Makaloun a whole new ball game, but the one to keep an eye on above all in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud is Bolshoi Ballet, as if he can finish close up in this Group 1, so soon in his development, then he might well become the chosen one for Ballydoyle for the 2021 Derby, regardless of what happens at Doncaster.