Formerly known as the Racing Post Trophy, Saturday’s rebranded Vertem Futurity Trophy (G1) at Doncaster historically yields European classic contenders. The mile feature is also a scoring race on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby, offering juveniles a final opportunity to earn points on the turf before the series resumes early next year on all-weather tracks.
You can watch the race, scheduled for 11:05 a.m. (EDT), live on TwinSpires.com.
Last year’s Trophy served up a terrific finish between the Aidan O’Brien-trained favorite, Saxon Warrior, and John Gosden’s Roaring Lion, and the same horsemen loom large in Saturday’s renewal.
O’Brien, in search of a ninth win in the Trophy, again sends out the favorite in Magna Grecia. Not an early nominee, he was supplemented after turning in strong efforts in both career starts. Magna Grecia romped in his debut at Naas September 30, then just missed to the more experienced French colt Persian King in the Autumn S. (G3) at Newmarket. The trainer’s son Donnacha is back aboard Magna Grecia, a $445,143 Tattersalls December weanling by Invincible Spirit and out of the Group 3-winning Galileo mare Cabaret.
Gosden counters with a serious prospect in Turgenev, owned by Sheikh Mohammed’s wife, Princess Haya. Runner-up to future Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1) winner Royal Marine in his unveiling at this course, Turgenev has progressed markedly to dominate his two subsequent starts. The son of Dubawi and high-class racemare Tasaday demolished them at Newcastle and made light of 134 pounds when galloping at Newmarket last out. With regular rider Frankie Dettori in the saddle, Turgenev rates the superior value at 4-1 on the morning line compared to Magna Grecia’s skimpy 7-5 odds.
Both O’Brien and Gosden have additional chances. O’Brien’s Circus Maximus and Western Australia, the respective third and fourth in the Autumn, must bridge a substantial gap with stablemate Magna Grecia. Circus Maximus, a son of Galileo and Group 2 winner Duntle, has license to improve with only three starts under his belt so far. Western Australia, on the other hand, is looking pretty exposed with a 1-for-5 record, and the outsider of the 11-horse field may be tasked with the pacemaking role. In contrast, Gosden’s Kick On has upside coming off a good-looking maiden score at Newmarket.
Phoenix of Spain is the biggest threat to crash the O’Brien-Gosden rivalry. Trained by Charlie Hills, the $305,844 Tattersalls October yearling was most recently runner-up in the Champagne (G2) to the sensational Too Darn Hot, who came back to roll in the Dewhurst (G1). Phoenix of Spain has yet to try a mile, but his rallying victory in the Acomb (G3) at York two back suggests he’ll handle the extra furlong.
Debut winner Raakib Alhawa is an intriguing dark horse for David Simcock. From the first crop of star miler Kingman, he is from the stout family of High Chaparral, the 2001 Trophy winner who went on to become a dual classic hero and Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) repeater. Raakib Alhawa upset Dashing Willoughby in the Haynes, Hanson & Clark – a Newbury conditions race that has served as a launching pad in the past.
King Ottokar similarly prevailed in a photo-finish in his Newbury debut, the top two pulling well clear. Note that his sire, Motivator, captured the 2004 Trophy on the way to Epsom Derby (G1) glory, and we now know him as the sire of the great filly Treve.
Kuwait Currency was an outpaced fifth in the Dewhurst, but the son of Kitten’s Joy may be better suited to this trip. The Richard Hannon pupil previously landed the Stonehenge S. over a mile at Salisbury.
Great Scot also boasts a stakes win going a mile in the Ascendant S. at Haydock, as well as an earlier score over Godolphin’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) pre-entrant Line of Duty. A head away from being unbeaten, Great Scot suffered his lone loss when third in a listed stakes at Deauville.