Charlie Appleby’s two best horses have both retired to stud this month – but he may be about to unearth a new stable star if One Ruler can continue his rise in the Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster.
After waving goodbye to multiple Group One winners Pinatubo and Ghaiyyath in recent weeks, Appleby has a vacancy for a new flag-bearer.
So far One Ruler looks like he may fit the bill, based on his smooth victory in the Autumn Stakes last time out – which came with cut in the ground at Newmarket.
“He has handled the juice well at Newmarket,” said Appleby.
“He is out of a French family, and generally they run on the slower side of good, so the ground wouldn’t worry me.
“Getting the trip last time and seeing that improvement was key for me. He will be going there as a serious player.
“I think 10 (furlongs) will be his maximum (next year). On the mare’s side (Fintry) she was a miler, and he shows a lot of natural pace, but he saw that mile out well.
“I don’t see him at the moment being a mile-and-a-half horse, at this stage, but we will let him winter away first.
“He did what he did at Newmarket and he did get beat on the flat track at Doncaster, but I think that was a bit of inexperience – and tactically we rode a different race to what we had done on his previous starts.”
Aidan O’Brien needs one more win in the race to draw equal with the late Sir Henry Cecil on 10 victories.
O’Brien’s two most recent winners, Saxon Warrior and Magna Grecia, both went on to land the 2000 Guineas – and from a large entry at the five-day stage, this year he relies solely on Dewhurst runner-up Wembley.
“Obviously he ran a great race in the Dewhurst (won by stablemate St Mark’s Basilica) and before that the National Stakes, so he’s got Group One form,” said O’Brien.
“He seems to have been in good form since. He is stepping up to a mile for the first time, but we don’t think that is going to be an issue.
“Hopefully the ground isn’t that soft – the better it is, the more he’ll like it.”
Andrew Balding is another trainer with a good record in the race, having struck with Elm Park and then subsequent Guineas hero Kameko 12 months ago, when the race had to be run at Newcastle because of waterlogging at Doncaster.
This year Balding saddles King Vega, a maiden after two starts but who showed a good level of ability when second in the Solario Stakes last time out.
“I’m really pleased with the horse, and we’re all looking forward to it,” the Kingsclere trainer told Sky Sports Racing.
“I think he’s probably the highest-rated maiden in the country, but I’m sure there are plenty of unraced horses that are pretty decent waiting to come out.
“He’s a horse we’ve always rated very highly. He ran a very decent race in the Solario, and the extra furlong will certainly be to his advantage.
“It’s going to be slow ground. Lope De Vegas tend to go well with dig in the ground.
“He was worked on the grass here in the last three weeks. He seems to enjoy a bit of ease, and I don’t think the ground conditions will be too much of a concern for him.”
Assessing the quality of the opposition, Balding added: “The Dewhurst was a true Group One test, as it should be. Wembley just missed out and he’s a horse that has improved with racing. Aidan’s got a fantastic record in the race. He’s very much the one to beat.”
John Gosden will be looking to Megallan to bring him a change of fortune, after several stable stars disappointed on Champions Day.
The Kingman colt, out of a half-sister to Golden Horn, was fourth behind One Ruler last time out.
“He got in trouble at Newmarket the other day,” said Gosden.
“He got forced back and had to come back round them, but he ran a very good race. It will be interesting to see how soft it does get up there. However, he is in good form going into it.”