After a long, and in the case of this year a particularly harsh, winter, racing action returns to Newmarket’s Rowley Mile on Tuesday, 17 April for the three-day Craven Meeting where racegoers will look forward to the seasonal reappearance of many Classic hopefuls.
The feature race of the first day is the nine-furlong Listed Feilden Stakes which is viewed as a trial for various Classic races, but three years ago was won by future Derby winner and now Darley stallion, Golden Horn. The son of former Godolphin flagbearer Cape Cross’s victory in the Feilden and then the G2 Dante impressed his connections enough to supplement him for the Epsom Derby and he could not have rewarded their faith in greater style, storming to a three-and-a-half-length victory. Two years earlier, the race was won by Intello, who went on to win the French Derby.
Wednesday sees one of the first Classic trials for fillies, the Nell Gwyn Stakes. The last winner of this race to go on to glory in the 1,000 Guineas was Speciosa, but if you look further back, some true superstars have landed this seven-furlong contest.
Pebbles took the race in 1984 and was purchased by Sheikh Mohammed after an emphatic follow-up victory in the 1,000 Guineas. She went on to become the first filly ever to win the Eclipse and subsequently landed the Champion Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Turf. A year later, the race was won by Oh So Sharp, who was included (although at the time still yet to be born) with Sheikh Mohammed’s purchase of Dalham Hall Stud in 1981. Oh So Sharp would go on to win the Fillies’ Triple Crown (the 1,000 Guineas, the Oaks and the St Leger) and remains the last filly to complete this incredible feat.
The older horses are also the stars of the show on day two, as they line up in the G3 Earl of Sefton Stakes. Godolphin’s French Navy took the spoils in 2015, while last year Folkswood, who is also trained by Charlie Appleby, was beaten just half a length. Folkswood (Exceed And Excel) has since enjoyed success around the world, winning the Listed Cranbourne Cup in Australia before recording a thrilling victory in the G3 Dubai Millennium Stakes at Meydan.
There is another Black Type contest for three-year-olds up for grabs on Wednesday, the Listed European Free Handicap. The race was won back in 1986 by Green Desert, who went on to huge success as a sire, not least courtesy of the aforementioned Cape Cross. Danehill is another notable winner of this race, victorious in 1989.
The meeting reaches its pinnacle on the Thursday, with the G3 Craven Stakes. The one-mile contest serves as a trial for the first British Classic of the year, the G1 2,000 Guineas. Haafhd, running in the colours of Sheikh Hamdan, was the last horse to win both the Craven and the Guineas in 2004, however defeat in this race is by no means a barrier to future success, as is proven by the long list of horses who have made the frame and gone on to succeed at the highest level.
Postponed, standing his first year as a Darley stallion in 2018, was third here before going on to win the Juddmonte International, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, the Coronation Cup and the Dubai Sheema Classic – all G1 contests. Other distinguished names to have featured in the Craven placings are King’s Best (second in 2000 and followed up with 2,000 Guineas victory the following month), future Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Raven’s Pass and Dr Devious, who went on to win the Derby.
The other Group race on Thursday’s card is the G3 Abernant Stakes, where the super speedsters fly down the six-furlong straight to kick off their seasonal campaigns. Last year’s winner, Brando, was subsequently third to Godolphin’s Harry Angel in the Darley July Cup before adding his first G1 win in the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville in August. In 2014, another future G1 winner took the Abernant, this time Mayson, who would go on to win the Darley July Cup.
In all, there are 21 races across the three days of the Craven Meeting and with the British Guineas, complete with several high-class races on the undercard each day, following just over two weeks later, the annual curtain raiser at the historical home of horseracing is bound to provide plenty of pointers for the season to come.