Newmarket, It’s Good To Be Back

They’re off and running at Newmarket, though not all of the runners have been in official races. The first day of the Craven meeting, a date anticipated with longing by those racing folk who dwell by that wind-blasted Heath, was ushered in by a Classic winner on the Rowley Mile. 

While we have more than a fortnight to wait for the first Classic victor of 2023 to reveal himself, the 2021 Irish Derby winner Hurricane Lane (Ire) (Frankel {GB}) strode out with purpose under William Buick on the easy turf on Tuesday morning. He is likely to be seen next in Newbury’s G3 John Porter S. on Saturday, and the post-work smile on Charlie Appleby’s face was matched a few hours later by Roger Varian, who oversaw a pre-racing gallop for his 2,000 Guineas contender Sakheer (Ire) (Zoffany {GB}).

“It was perfect to be honest,” said Varian, who was in company with Fawzi Nass and Oliver St Lawrence representing Sakheer’s Bahraini owner KHK Racing. 

“It was not meant to be gut-busting work, and it wasn’t. He did enough to have a nice blow and it got him a day away from home.”

Ed Harper of Whitsbury Manor Stud paid close inspection to Sakheer as he was warmed down after his gallop. As the breeder of Sakheer’s potential Guineas rival Chaldean (GB) (Frankel {GB}), Harper is entitled to be more interested than most, but then the stallion men know how fierce the competition is for new recruits. It’s never too early to start looking.

Meanwhile, Varian added of the colt’s five-furlong gallop, “It’s nice to come an hour before racing as there are a few people around and there is a little bit of atmosphere, and he got to experience the undulations [of the Rowley Mile].

“He was very well balanced throughout the work and he came through nicely. It was a bridle work, but a strong work and he will come forward nicely for it. It’s very much part of his schedule and he has got a strong two weeks ahead of him.”

Nass and St Lawrence have also got a strong few weeks ahead of them with the commencement of the breeze-up sales in Europe this week. Both Sakheer and his stable-mate, the St Leger winner Eldar Eldarov (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}), who races in the same colours, were sourced at the Arqana breeze-up in the past two seasons.

Varian noted that we can expect to see Eldar Eldarov return to action in the G2 Yorkshire Cup on May 19. With Stradivarius (Ire) busily covering more than 100 mares next door to the Rowley Mile at the National Stud, and Kyprios (Ire) having met with a setback, could this be the year for the youngster to further enhance his name in the staying ranks?

As the sun was chased away by fierce gusts, Frankie Dettori may well have been wishing that he’d remained in California, especially when his first two mounts back on home turf finished last. But then Covey (GB) (Frankel {GB}) burst through to win the Alex Scott Maiden by four lengths to earn himself a likely tilt in stakes company for his next start.

“I arrived this morning: I slept two hours on the plane and two hours in my bed,” said Dettori. “I was counting it this morning and I’ve got six months until 21 October and Champions Day, so there is still plenty to do. I’m not going to start crying yet but I will enjoy it.”

It was a day for memorials. Alex Scott, who trained Lammtarra in his juvenile season as well as the top sprinters Cadeaux Genereux (GB) and Sheikh Albadou (GB), has been commemorated on the Rowley Mile since his premature death in September 1994 at the age of just 34, and many members of his family gathered on the rostrum for the presentation. 

In the next race we remembered Pat Smullen, the multiple Irish champion jockey who gained even more respect in his fundraising efforts for Cancer Trials Ireland, and was a much enjoyed columnist for TDN as his riding career came to an end. Since Smullen’s death in September 2020, his great friend and colleague Ted Durcan has ensured that his name lives on at Newmarket by sponsoring the Pat Smullen Memorial British EBF Novice S. 

It was a contest that provided a third winner for the early leader in the first-season sires’ table, Darley’s Blue Point (Ire). His son Blue Storm (Ire), trained by James Tate for Sultan Ali, had been expected in the ring on Tuesday evening for the Tattersalls Craven Breeze-up Sale. Instead he graced the parade ring on the Rowley Mile, the second two-year-old winner this year, after Bucanero Fuerte (GB) (Wootton Bassett {GB}), to have been entered for that sale but sent straight to the racecourse instead.

Plenty of mutterings between races on the pre-parade ring rail still centred on the events at Aintree on Saturday, and a security guard at Newmarket admitted that they had been warned to expect potential protesters back at the Rowley Mile for the Guineas meeting, which coincides with the King’s coronation.

It would be preferable to be able to cast such worries from our minds and focus on the most important thing in front of us while leaning on that rail: enticing, well-bred Thoroughbreds who could be anything. That, after all, is what the Craven meeting is all about. The true start of the Flat, at British racing’s HQ. It’s good to be back, even in bone-chilling weather. 


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