There comes a time of the racing year when the two-year-olds you see are less the sharp early types and more the longer-staying three-year-olds in the making. The changing of the guard may be a week or two later this year, for obvious reasons, but I reckon we have reached that stage now.
For the latest instalment of “darker horses”, or “I can think of nothing else to write about this week”, I have identified all the juveniles to have run in maidens at seven furlongs or further in August, and which recorded sectional ratings of 98 or higher on my figures. Some of them may not be especially dark any longer, but a few of them could just be big noises in the making.
There are a couple of winners, and then the first four home in arguably the maiden of the season so far, so I will deal with the first two before moving onto that specific race.
NAVAL CROWN (C Appleby) 102 rating
It took Naval Crown three starts to get off the mark, but there is no disgrace in that, in that he came third to subsequent Group 2 third Youth Spirit at Newmarket on the first occasion and third to Chindit in what has proved to be a red-hot listed race at Ascot on the second. Nonetheless, he got a whole lot better when winning the Convivial Maiden at York last week at short odds and by four and a half lengths, in the process recording a notably good time helped by some efficient sectionals (100.6% finishing speed). His stride length peaked at 24.5 feet on what was a slightly easy surface, and his cadence varied between 2.46 and 2.37 strides/second, a narrow range which points to his being best at 7f/8f and possibly by having plenty of use made of him, as here.
THUNDER MOON (J O’Brien, Ireland) 100 rating
It might be imagined that a horse who ran comfortably the fastest last 3f by a two-year-old on Barrier Trials Day at Dundalk in July would have been a warm order for a maiden, even one at the Curragh, when turning out less than a fortnight later. But Thunder Moon went off at 10/1 before scoring by three and three quarter lengths from 89-rated Colour Sergeant. He did it in a useful time, too, storming clear in the final furlong. His stride length peaked at 23.8 feet (unremarkable, but the ground had plenty of give in it) and his cadence varied between 2.53 and 2.34 strides/second. That is quite high, and 8f may be as far as Thunder Moon stays, but his ability to increase his cadence almost instantly in a 11.65s penultimate furlong was especially impressive.
Now onto that maiden mentioned above. It is the Betway Maiden that opened the card at Sandown on Sunday, and had been won by Palace Pier 12 months earlier, as well as by Stormy Antarctic and Time Test in the not-too-distant past.
It was one of three races at seven furlongs on the card, all of them for two-year-olds, and was by some way the quickest. One of the other two was the Group 3 Betway Solario Stakes won by 2000 Guineas hope Etonian from another 2000 Guineas hope in King Vega.
Here are the leader splits for those three races for comparison, followed by the individual splits for the first four home in the maiden.
ONE RULER (C Appleby) 103 rating
Moved forward greatly from his debut second to Etonian at this course and distance in July, looking more professional in making all. His stride length peaked at 23.1 feet in the second half of the race and his stride frequency varied between 2.42 and 2.17 strides/second, a wide range which shows he can change gear and which is most typical of a 8f/10f performer in the fullness of time.
MAXIMAL (Sir M Stoute) 99 rating
Has now finished second in two of the best non-listed/Group juvenile races of the summer, having been behind Guru at Newbury on his debut, and rallying at the death here having been slowest of the four (12.15s) in the penultimate furlong. He had the longest stride of these four, at 23.6 feet (stride length is linked to ability but affected by several factors), and a 2.43 to 2.13 cadence range. By Galileo, out of a 6f-winning half-sister to Frankel, he remains a good prospect, especially when tried at a mile and beyond.
LATEST GENERATION (S & E Crisford) 99 rating
Did not have the racecourse experience of the two who beat him here but shaped well and as if winning a maiden – or possibly something better – will be a formality. He was fastest of all (11.95s) from 3f out to 2f out but could not quite hold onto second close home under vigorous hands and heels. A stride length of 23.2 feet and a cadence which ranged between 2.45 and 2.25 strides/second suggests he will be a miler (but fine if kept to 7f for now), and at least a useful one at that.
MITHRAS (J Gosden) 98 rating
Ran a race of considerable promise given that he was slowly away, green early and something like a dozen lengths adrift turning in, and could prove the best of these, his individual splits coming in at 12.35s, 12.20s, 11.90s and 12.73s for the last four furlongs. With a cadence ranging between 2.45 and 2.30 strides/second, that implies a peak stride length of 23.3 feet. By Dubawi, out of the Sun Chariot Stakes third Irish Rookie, Mithras is most likely to be a miler and should be okay if kept to 7f despite the abiding impression of his strong finish here.