I’m not sure about this Future Champions thing. It used to be the case that the Royal Lodge, the Middle Park and the Dewhurst were spaced out so that juvenile colts had the option to run in at least two of them, just like the Fillies’ Mile, the Cheveley Park and the Rockfel were spaced out for fillies. Now we have the Middle Park and the Dewhurst on the same day, which rules out the possibility of the Middle Park winner stepping up to seven furlongs and racing in the Dewhurst. Unless, that is, he can recover from his Middle Park exertions in 35 minutes.

Then you have the Cesarewitch thrown in on top of the day. What’s ‘future champion’ about the Ces? Future Champion Hurdler maybe.

My Cesarewitch shortlist had to be re-named (relativelylonglist). Countrywide Flame was on it, but he was and is on everybody’s at this stage, and you can understand why. Rated 72 when he last raced on the flat before this season, he improved from a hurdles mark of 130 to a hurdles mark of 152 through last winter, yet he gets to race today off a flat mark of 88. The general rule of thumb is that, if your flat mark is 45lb or 50lb lower than your hurdles mark, you are probably well-handicapped on the flat. Countrywide Flame’s mark today is 64lb lower than his hurdles mark.

Of course, rules of thumb can be dodgy things, and just because a horse is a proficient hurdler, it doesn’t mean that he can translate that ability to races with no obstacles. That said, Countrywide Flame has plenty in his favour today besides.

He was progressive on the flat before he went hurdling, so the chances are that he was improving as a racehorse anyway, that it wasn’t the introduction of hurdles that saw him improve. So there is every chance that he can transfer his progression over hurdles to the flat.

The Cesarewitch has been his aim, he has been trained for the race by John Quinn for a little while now, and he had a lovely prep run at Chester last month, when he made all to win nicely. It would have been even better had he been beaten, he has a 4lb penalty to shoulder today for that victory, but you can’t have it all. He is drawn well in stall seven, and he should handle ground that is good to soft or softer, which is what it is going to be regardless of what the weather did overnight.

So where are the chinks? How do you take him on? Well, he’s short, so you need to try. He does still have to prove that he is ahead of the handicapper on the flat. For example, we know that Hurricane Higgins is 10lb well-in, and he is available at almost twice the price of Countrywide Flame, who is only 2lb well-in officially.

Also, Countrywide Flame is a front-runner on the flat. All of his five wins on the level have been pillar-to-post wins, and it is difficult to make all in a Cesarewitch. Last year’s winner Never Can Tell aside, eight of the previous nine winners, according to race analyses, were all held up in midfield, settled in midfield, held up in rear or just plain held up.

Never Can Tell was a real trends-buster, not only because she made all, but also because she made all from stall 36, the widest stall of all. The stats tell us that you need a low draw in the Cesarewitch – the three horses who chased the winner home last year were drawn in stalls two, six and nine respectively, while seven of the last 10 winners were drawn 12 or lower and four of the last 10 were drawn four or lower.

Those stats don’t tell the true story, there is a more expansive story that tells you that middle-to-high-drawn horses haven’t fared too badly if you extend your search to include the placed horses as well as the winners. (In the last 10 years, in the five renewals run on easy ground, 11 of the 20 places were filled by horses drawn 16 or higher.) So, ideally you want to be drawn low, but don’t rule out the high-drawn horses just because they are drawn high.

I backed Alhellal before the draw was made. I wasn’t impressed with stall 30, but I wasn’t tearing up my ticket either. I think that he has been under-rated by the market. He is a six-year-old, the ideal age for the hurly-burly of a Cesarewitch, and he is a relatively lightly-raced six-year-old – he has raced just five times on the flat in his life, and he has won three times – so he has scope for progression.

A winner over two and a half miles over hurdles, he stayed on strongly to win the Ulster Derby at Down Royal on his most recent run, beating the useful Rattan (a dual winner over hurdles since) into second place, and subsequent Irish St Leger winner Royal Diamond into third. A 5lb hike for that performance was not harsh, and it is probable that Maurice Phelan put him away after that for the Cesarewitch.

Phelan is not a household name, but he proved his ability both in terms of training and in terms of placement when he won the Eider Chase last February with Portrait King. Originally thought of as a good ground horse, Alhellal handled very soft ground well at Down Royal last time, Wayne Lordan is a really good booking, and odds of around 30 are too big. He is worth backing in the place market as well.

Any other bet in the race will be weather-dependent. If it didn’t rain much overnight and if there isn’t much forecast, Montaser, Olympiad, Hurricane Higgins, Tominator and Martyr are interesting, but they are all well found by the market. Western Prize could be the angle if the ground isn’t too bad. If it did rain, then Albert Bridge and Stormy Weather come into it. With the top of the market dominated by good(ish) ground horses, there is another angle if it rains.

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