Now that the Great St Leger Controversy has almost been put to bed, racing’s focus of attention is steered towards the major events of the autumn, most notably Arc Weekend at Longchamp and Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot.
Newmarket also hosts several important events, headed by its new two-day Future Champions Festival next month and the three-day Cambridgeshire meeting, which gets under way today.
And as the Flat season reaches its finale, thoughts inevitably turn to next spring when the early Classics will unfold. Which, of course, represents the acid test for many of the promising two-year-olds currently strutting their stuff and unveiling their potential.
Keeping tabs on juvenile form is often a headache for punters as posses of possible stars and new names emerge from gallops to racecourse every week.
Therefore, I’ve compiled this list of 25 of the best two-year-olds we have seen so far this term. It is not a definitive list, and some colts and fillies may well be glaring omissions. The plethora of maidens in the coming weeks will also throw up many other nice sorts. But I am certain these are youngsters who can go on to further success at Group level, whether that be this autumn or once the 2016 campaign gets under way.
AIR FORCE BLUE (Aidan O’Brien)
The pick of the Ballydoyle battalions is the obvious horse to start with, such has been the improvement he has shown since his defeat at Royal Ascot. Don’t rush into backing him for the 2,000 Guineas, however. Even connections fear his pedigree and running style suggest 1m might be a bit too far.
ANAMBA (Michael Halford)
Ballydoyle’s ominously-named filly, Coolmore, was an odds-on favourite to land her second start at Leopardstown, but was trumped by this Godolphin-owned rival on her debut, who travelled and battled takingly. Highly-regarded, she is expected to improve on quicker ground.
BEST IN THE WORLD (Aidan O’ Brien)
Ballydoyle juveniles who win, or go close to winning, on their first starts are always likely to be above average. This superbly-bred daughter of Group One winners Galileo and Red Evie, second on debut at The Curragh last weekend, is already on my radar for next season’s Oaks.
DAWN OF HOPE (Roger Varian)
A lengthy, strong filly, this daughter of Mastercraftsman might always be suited best by give in the ground, but given the way she powered clear to win her Ascot maiden, I’ll be amazed if she can’t find a Group prize.
DOUBLY MOTIVATED (Charlie Hills)
The terrific season of Charlie Hills might just get better if this son of Iffraaj can build on her breathtaking blitz of ordinary rivals at Lingfield two weeks ago. She might re-appear in the Rockfel at Newmarket this weekend.
EMOTIONLESS (Charlie Appleby)
It’s very rare I am tempted these days by a long-range, ante-post bet for the 2,000 Guineas. But as Ladbrokes dangled a 12/1 carrot in front of my eyes after this colt’s brilliant victory at Doncaster’s St Leger meeting, I couldn’t resist it. The colt oozes class and possesses the physical scope to keep improving. Jockey William Buick was gobsmacked by his Donny display.
FOUNDATION (John Gosden)
A Highclere-owned son of Zoffany who has fluffed the start on both his runs so far, and yet still demolished the opposition with searing changes of gear. His action suggests cut in the ground might be important, but his pedigree screams fast surfaces. A Group One winner in waiting.
HAGGLE (Luca Cumani)
One of the best maidens seen so far this term resulted in Ballydoyle defeating Nemoralia at Newmarket’s July meeting. Back in third was this exciting filly, who confirmed her potential for leading middle-distance prizes next year by dotting up on her second start.
ILLUMINATE (Richard Hannon)
The subsequent Group-race exploits of the admirable BESHARAH underline the talent of this unbeaten filly, who beat her at Newmarket in July, having looked even more tasty on debut and at Royal Ascot. It’s a bit disconcerting that she hasn’t been seen since, but she’s set to return in the Group One Cheveley Park this weekend, with trainer Richard Hannon sure she will stay the 1,000 Guineas mile.
KNIFE EDGE (Marco Botti)
The boys at Coolmore, messrs Magnier, Tabor and Smith, don’t place many of their horses outside Ireland. But Marco Botti won’t be wasting the talent of this colt judging by the classy way he disposed of the opposition on debut at Ascot.
LA RIOJA (Henry Candy)
Few trainers are better at exploiting star quality than Henry Candy, who has another class act to go to war with in this filly owned by Qatar Racing. Candy insists she’s all speed and won’t go a yard past 6f, so she’s an early candidate for next June’s Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot.
LIGHT MUSIC (William Haggas)
One of only three maidens on my list, but the Queen’s filly won’t be long in winning, judged by her debut effort when she bustled up Nathra, who has since gone on to an explosive success in better company. Bred to be a very useful miler.
LUMIERE (Mark Johnston)
Many pundits will have written off this grey daughter of Shamardal after her defeat in the Lowther at York. But she actually improved and learned plenty in a hot renewal, building on her electric debut victory at Newmarket, and remains firmly on the shortlist for the 1,000 Guineas next May.
MASSAAT (Barry Hills/Owen Burrows)
The way he recovered from a slow start on debut at Sandown and rocketed home next time out at Leicester suggests this Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned son of Teofilo has ability to burn. Barry Hills retires again at the end of the season, but I bet this one tempted him to go on.
MINDING (Aidan O’Brien)
After the Group One Moyglare Stud Stakes earlier this month, the focus was on the defeat of hot favourite, Ballydoyle. But I’d be reluctant to knock her stablemate conqueror who is a classy and hardy daughter of Galileo and likely to go improving as she steps up in trip to 1m and further.
MUNTAZAH (Barry Hills/Owen Burrows)
A second exciting Hamdan colt that new trainer Owen Burrows will inherit when Barry Hills steps down. And a second one capable of collecting Group booty on Good or quicker ground. Described by jockey Paul Hanagan as “a proper horse” after his maiden win.
NATHRA (John Gosden)
We’ve yet to find out if Soft ground, on which both of her impressive victories have come, is essential for this filly who is related to July Cup winning sprinter Owington. But we have found out she is smart, blessed with speed and resolution. A trip to France for the Marcel Boussac is on the cards next.
NEMORALIA (Jeremy Noseda)
There have been no easier winners of a handicap this season than this US-bred filly, who toyed with 18 opponents in a Doncaster Nursery -- and off top weight. Pattern races are a different kettle of fish, but connections think she’s good enough to tackle the Breeders’ Cup.
QUIET REFLECTION (Karl Burke)
Having bolted up on debut, this daughter of Showcasing appeared to have her limitations exposed at York’s Ebor meeting. But she blitzed a competitive field on her return to 5f at Ayr last weekend, and is now earmarked for the Cornwallis Stakes at HQ next month.
SATISH (John Gosden)
Like his more exalted stable companion, Shalaa, this handsome, well-regarded colt pulled up few trees on debut. But he got the message late on and has the physical scope and potential to make similar progress, albeit over middle-distances, rather than sprint trips.
SHALAA (John Gosden)
An all-too-obvious inclusion, but one hard to ignore, given the scintillating way the powerful son of Invincible Spirit has reeled off three Group prizes already this season. He’s an archetypal sprinter, so his Al Shaqab Racing connections are unlikely to be tempted by the Guineas.
SMASH WILLIAMS (Jim Bolger)
Barely a season goes by without a contender for the rich autumn prizes and spring Classics from the Bolger stable. This colt, who is the son of a Derby fourth and a dam who is a full sister to an Irish 1,000 Guineas winner, is this year’s model -- and typically tough and classy with it.
SPECIAL SEASON (William Haggas)
Don’t worry that this son of Lope De Vega was an odds-on failure at Newbury last week. Jockey Pat Cosgrave confessed to a right cock-up on testing ground that blunted the spectacular turn of foot he showed on debut. He’s good and will prove it again soon, maybe back at 7f.
TASHWEEQ (John Gosden)
The most appealing facet of this colt’s profile is that he has gained two victories in thrilling fashion, and yet trainer John Gosden is convinced he will improve a bundle for fast ground. He will also relish the step-up to 1m and has Group class written all over him.
TONY CURTIS (Richard Hannon)
It hasn’t been a vintage year for the Hannon juvenile academy by any means, but I suspect there’s much more to come from this son of Rock Of Gibraltar. The fact that he was pitched into a Group Two contest only nine days after his winning debut underlines his reputation at home.
VENTURA STORM (Richard Hannon)
Most Hannon juveniles are all about speed, and few progress to get further than 1m. But the yard may well have a Derby contender on their hands in this son of Zoffany. The form of his three starts stacks up impressively, so it’s off to France next to find out exactly how smart he is.