The turf

Charlie Appleby is the trainer to beat

16 October 2021

9:00 AM

16 October 2021

9:00 AM

I know what Keats was on about with his mists and mellow fruitfulness, but autumn is less of a joy when you daren’t rock up at the local petrol station with a jerry can to fill the mower for fear of being lynched by fuel-hungry vigilantes taking you for a hoarder. For me this time of year is defined more by my annual quest to bring off the autumn double, finding winners two weeks apart for the Cambridgeshire and the Cesarewitch. This year I managed two seconds with Anmaat (11–2) and Burning Victory (13–2): the dream goes on.

The Cesarewitch is my favourite, partly because it brings to Newmarket a clutch of jumping stars who fancy their chances of cocking a snook at Flat trainers in their own headquarters by taking home the prize for the 2m 2f contest that begins in Cambridgeshire and ends in Suffolk. Cesarewitch is an anglicised version of Tsesarevich, the title given to past heirs to the Russian throne. Racing folk jibing at the takeover of our major football clubs by Middle Eastern moneybags are in no position to scoff: the race got its name because the Tsesarevich Alexander, later Tsar Alexander II, lobbed the Jockey Club £300. One of those fearsomely bearded Romanovs who scowl from sepia prints, the poor chap was assassinated by People’s Will revolutionaries at their fifth attempt despite having proposed emancipation of the serfs.

The jumping brigade triumphed again this year as Nicky Henderson won with the talented hurdler Buzz, the third time he has collected the prize after successes with Landing Light (2003) and Caracciola (2008). Other National Hunt trainers who have won the Cesarewitch in the past 25 years include Jeff King, Mary Reveley, Martin Pipe, Philip Hobbs, Alan King and Willie Mullins who did so three years running from 2018–20. In his effort to lift the prize yet again, the Irish maestro provided six of this year’s field of 32 leading some punters to grumble that there ought to be a limit on the number of contestants one yard is allowed in a race, a complaint we have heard in the past about Derby entries from Aidan O’Brien. The answer is that any such curb would be unworkable — each of Mullins’s six entries was in a different ownership. Which would you exclude?


The Newmarket card was full of valuable information for the future. You could not have seen a better finish or a more exciting race than the Group Three Zetland Stakes. Godolphin’s two top jockeys, William Buick on Hafit and James Doyle on Goldspur, pulled clear of the pack with Frankie Dettori on Donnacha O’Brien’s Unconquerable and with the lead changing several times the three tussled ferociously throughout the last two furlongs. In the end Goldspur won by a head from Unconquerable with Hafit a short head away in third. The placings don’t matter: what we saw was three two-year-olds in the hands of three brilliant jockeys prepared, even at this stage in their careers, to battle every inch of the way to the line.

It was Godolphin’s day altogether and, as Charlie Appleby’s No. 1 rider, William Buick has himself become the People’s Will in his sustained challenge to Oisin Murphy for the title of champion jockey. Buick got the choice wrong between Adayar and Hurricane Lane for the Derby this year, and he is likely to face an equally difficult choice for next year’s first Classic, the 2,000 Guineas. Trained by the unstoppable Appleby and in the blue colours of Godolphin, Coroebus simply oozed class in winning the 1m Group Three Autumn Stakes while Native Trail, now unbeaten in four races, dominated the two-year-old championship Dewhurst Stakes.

The pair now head the ante-post market for the Guineas with Native Trail at 7–2 and Coroebus at 6–1. Both are lovely big horses who look like three-year-olds already and should have the scope to train on, but you sense that if it were down to Charlie Appleby, who has never worked the two together, those prices would be closer. He says: ‘Native Trail is harder to assess. Coroebus has been there from the get-go. He travels for fun. When the pace gets quicker in races like the Classics, one thing you have got to do is travel and that is what Coroebus does in abundance.’ Of the 540kg Native Trail he said that going on his work before success in the National Stakes in Ireland you wouldn’t have been excited ‘but he is the sort of horse that warms into a race and does it all the right way round. His acceleration, once he is given the office, is quite remarkable’.

With Derby and King George winner Adayar and Irish Derby and St Leger winner Hurricane Lane both staying in training as four-year-olds, Appleby has the strongest hand of any trainer in the land for 2022. Last Saturday’s successes took him to the top of the trainers’ championship table ahead of Andrew Balding. He must have every chance of dominating it next year.

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