The Darley Dewhurst Stakes is probably the 2-year-old race that I look forward to most in any horse racing season.
The Group 1 contest is nearly always won by a top-class colt that goes on to win top-flight races the following season (the last five winners won at least once at the top table the following season), often in Classics, and this year’s juvenile showpiece shouldn’t be any different.
Six of the last nine Dewhurst Stake’s have been won by the horse that went off favourite and that will be music to the ears of Native Trail fans, given the Godolphin star is trading a shade of odds-on ahead of Saturday’s race.
By definition, ratings tend to be less informative when it comes to young, improving horses, but you only need a cursory glance at the numbers for the 2021 Dewhurst Stakes to realise how far ahead of the pack Native Trail is. This unbeaten son of Oasis Dream posted the juvenile performance of the season in winning the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes at the Curragh by three and a half lengths, extending his winning run to three.
The Charlie Appleby-trained colt readily accounted for the previously unbeaten Point Lonsdale, who many regard as the best juvenile at Ballydoyle, while third-placed Ebro River had won the Group 1 Pheonix Stakes on his previous start. This is form that elevates Native Trail to a different level than that any of Saturday’s rivals have got near and, providing the ground isn’t too soft on the Rowley Mile, a special performance could be on the cards.
Native Trail is very short odds for his weekend assignment but he’s 4/1 with bet365, Paddy Power and Betfair to win the 2,000 Guineas in May (will need supplementing), a price that will turn to dust if he does what the formbook says he should on Saturday.
If you like sitting on some value over the winter, back Native Trail to win the first classic of the 2022 season before Saturday and you have every chance of going into the winter with a ticket that puts you ahead of the game.
The Cesarewitch Handicap has been hijacked by Jumps trainers in recent years, one in particular. The likes of Philip Hobbs and Alan King are on the honours board of this famous handicap since 2014 but Willie Mullins’ dominance of the National Hunt scene has spread to one of Flat racing’s most prestigious contests.
Mullins has won the last three editions of this famous contest, most recently with Great White Shark, who readily justified favouritism in 2020.
The Closutton trainer has the bookmakers running for cover once again in 2021, this time with MC Muldoon, who is similar price in ante post betting lists to the SP of Great White Shark 12 months ago.MC Muldoon isn’t quite as good a hurdler - at this stage of his career at least - as Great White Shark, but he’s already gone close winning one big Flat prize when denied by just a short head in the Ascot Stakes.
Connections will doubtless have learned plenty about this 6-year-old that day and the fact that he’s only had one spin over hurdles since suggests the Rowley Mile has been in their sights for some time.
However, we are talking about a horse that has been beaten in six of his seven starts on the level, while he’s 4lb higher than when just failing at Royal Ascot. Those factors alone temper enthusiasm for a horse that looks set to go off a short price in such a competitive contest.
The aforementioned Great White Shark has a 10lb higher mark to overcome and, perhaps more importantly, he’s not been seen under any code since January, so there are questions to be answered from his corner, too.
Nicky Henderson is no stranger to success in this contest despite not having won it since 2008, and the master of Seven Barrows appears to have a major contender in the shape of Buzz, a horse that has been in his care since January 2020.
Buzz is one of the few runners in Saturday's Cesarewitch with Grade 1 hurdles’ form to his name courtesy of a second-place finish in the Betway Aintree Hurdle in April.
The former Hughie Morrison inmate was no match for Abacadabras that day but still finished well ahead of proven Grade 1 performers and it looks significant that the six-time champion jump racing trainer is targeting this contest from a mark of 96, given he's a 155 horse over obstacles now.
Buzz will stay the trip well on ground he should find ideal, while connections have gone to the trouble of booking champion jockey Oisin Murphy, so I make him the most likely winner of Saturday’s big betting race.
If National Hunt racing is your thing, Chepstow’s curtain-raiser meeting brings with it a good deal of excitement.
The Unibet Persian War Novices’ Hurdle is my personal favourite and it’s a race that has thrown up some very talented winners in recent years.
Paul Nicholls has won three of the last six editions, most recently with McFabulous in 2020, and the ten-time champion trainer is responsible for this year’s market leader, Paso Doble, who will bid to become the first 4-year-old winner of the race since Wonderful Charm, also trained by Nicholls, in 2012.
Paso Doble ended up a mid-80’s handicapper for Jim Bolger but his new handler clearly thinks he’s capable of scaling greater heights in this discipline given he was pitched into the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle on his first start for Nicholls.
Despite finishing just over 11 lengths adrift of Tritonic, Paso Doble shaped with distinct promise that afternoon and he confirmed that when striking in a novice event back at the same venue, despite some novicey jumping, next time.
Given the son of Dawn Approach stayed 1m6f on the level, trips in excess of two miles should suit in this sphere and Nicholls clearly has a good deal of faith in this fella to be targeting this prize on seasonal return.
He could be ready to serve up a good dollop of improvement this year, which would make him a formidable opponent in Friday’s Grade 2 contest.