Time of the year: Varian degrees | Punting pointers ahead of the feature weekend action

Ben Linfoot looks at which Flat trainers usually thrive at the end of the year

Ben Linfoot looks at trainers who excel with their better juveniles and handicappers from October to December, with a view to the weekend's action.

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers,” is a quote from an old Lucy Maud Montgomery novel, Anne of Green Gables, and you might see it on a kitchen wall or a greetings card or dropped onto a golden autumnal picture on Instagram.

Perhaps it is framed in Roger Varian’s office, as well, as the Newmarket handler simply loves this time of year.

This weekend’s action at Newmarket and York is a mixture of top-class juvenile racing and competitive handicaps for older horses, and, looking at Varian’s record in both disciplines at this stage of the season, he’s a man to be following on Friday and Saturday.

First to the two-year-olds on a weekend where we have the Group One Dewhurst Stakes and Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket, as well as several other good pattern races for juveniles on the Rowley Mile and at York.


Roger Varian with 2YOs in pattern races Oct-Dec

  • 7/29 24.14% PRB: 54.55% P&L: +43.50

As you can see Varian has an excellent record with his best juveniles at the backend of the year with those seven winners including a couple of Group Ones thanks to Kingston Hill (Racing Post Trophy) and Belardo (Dewhurst Stakes).

Kingston Hill also won the Autumn Stakes, while San Donato won the Doncaster Stakes, Mushir landed the Rockingham and both Mot Juste and Altyn Order triumphed in the Oh So Sharp Stakes.

Indeed, Varian is going for his third win in four years in the Oh So Sharp at Newmarket on Friday and he has two potential runners this time around in Nazuna and Setarhe.

Nazuna will be the stable number one on the back of her good second to Isabella Giles in the Rockfel over the seven-furlong course and distance two weeks ago, that effort earning her a BHA mark of 104 which gives her an obvious chance on Friday.

Stablemate Setarhe doesn’t have a piece of form to match that, but she did win on the Rowley Mile on debut, she was second to Dandalla in the Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot and she was a close-up third to Fev Rover in a Listed race at Sandown in July.

She hasn’t been as good since, notably when last in the Sky Bet Lowther Stakes at York, but she’s had 50 days off the track since then and would be interesting if she can find improvement on her best form now tackling seven furlongs on the likely soft ground.

Zabeel Queen wins at Ascot

Later on the card Varian could run Zabeel Queen in the Fillies’ Mile and she’s a really interesting daughter of Frankel who will be trying to reverse May Hill form with John Gosden’s Indigo Girl.

She raced keenly last time at Doncaster, getting no cover from her starting berth on the far side, but her third-placed finish on just her second start was still a decent leap forward from her taking Ascot debut win.

On Saturday Varian could run Lady Hayes in the Zetland Stakes at Newmarket, the Kodiac filly on a hat-trick after wins at Salisbury and Haydock ensure she goes into this two from two.

She beat subsequent winner Light Refrain on debut at Salisbury and made no mistake as she continued her education at Haydock when sent off the 30/100 favourite in a fillies’ novice.

In the Group Three Autumn Stakes Varian might be represented by Royal Champion, a beautifully-bred Shamardal colt who won a maiden at Newmarket just over two weeks ago that was won in the past by Telescope, Mustajeer, Eminent and Ghaiyyath.

He overcame a slow start that day to win well and it will be interesting if he does take his chance given Varian openly pondered whether he might be put away for the year following his debut win.


Roger Varian with 3YOs+ in handicaps Oct-Dec

  • 41/238 17.23% PRB 61.22% P&L: -8.45

Varian does well with his handicappers at the backend of the year, too, a win strike-rate north of 17 per cent notably strong considering the time of the season.

This weekend he has four possible runners in the feature handicaps, with Zeeband likely to be popular in the betting in the Betsafe Handicap at York on Friday.

The son of Sea The Stars has been given consecutive 5lb hikes for narrow victories at Ripon and Thirsk, but he’s clearly on the upgrade and is all stamina as he goes for his third successive win over 1m6f.

Newmarket trainer Roger Varian has some likely types in action this weekend

Over at Newmarket on the same day Varian has a likely strong hand in the bet365 Old Rowley Cup Handicap thanks to Shandoz and Dublin Pharaoh.

Shandoz is another handicapper on a hat-trick, the son of Golden Horn winning twice at Ascot in August and September with the second of those victories coming in the Lavazza Stakes where he accounted for Cepheus and Kipps.

Dublin Pharaoh will be a bigger price but he also comes into the race on the back of a career-best win last-time out at Sandown, where he just held on by a neck from Zambezi Magic.

He steps up in trip from 10 to 12 furlongs.

Last but not least Australis carries a 4lb penalty, so he actually runs off his revised mark of 94, in the Cesarewitch.

The son of Australia made all to win over two miles at Chelmsford in a six-runner race two weeks ago, but faces a very different test in the 30-runner handicap this weekend.


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Friday October 9

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Other notable trainer records with 2YOs in pattern races Oct-Dec

  • Marcus Tregoning 6/23 26.09% PRB: 63.86% P&L: +62.75
  • Marco Botti 5/19 26.32% PRB: 69.15% P&L: +12.57

Marcus Tregoning is another trainer to look out for with his best juveniles at this time of year, which adds confidence ahead of Alkumait’s Dewhurst mission on Saturday.

Supplemented for £32,000, Tregoning will be hoping the impressive Mill Reef winner can follow in the hoofprints of Sir Percy who won the same race for his yard back in 2005.

Tregoning’s other juveniles to have won at pattern level from October onwards are Dominica in the Cornwallis, Prism in the Rockingham, Sayedah in the Rockfel, Nayef in the Autumn Stakes and Mohaather in the Horris Hill.

Alkumait stretches clear to win the Mill Reef

Marco Botti has a good strike-rate with his juveniles in pattern races in the last three months of the year, also, with Speak In Colours, Raymi Coya, Al Thakhira, Electric Feel and Dhaamaan all winning at Listed level or above.

He has one qualifier this weekend, Atalis Bay, an in-form Cable Bay colt who goes into his weekend assignment on the back of victories at Windsor, Kempton and Haydock.

Last time he showed his versatility to win over five furlongs, but he stays six perfectly well and it will be interesting to see if Botti goes for the Cornwallis over five at Newmarket on Friday or the Rockingham over six at York on Saturday.


Other notable trainer records with 3YOs+ in handicaps Oct-Dec

  • Hugo Palmer 23/133 17.29% PRB 54.49% P&L: -13.25
  • Saeed bin Suroor 65/344 18.90% PRB 57.89% P&L: -74.45

It’s tough to carve out a healthy win strike-rate in handicaps at any time of the year but both Hugo Palmer and Saeed bin Suroor are trainers with entries this weekend who traditionally do well with their runners in the sphere at this stage of the season.

Palmer could run Strawberry Rock in the Betsafe Handicap at York on Friday and that’s telling as he was in the Old Rowley Cup at Newmarket at the early entries stage.

The extra couple of furlongs looks key to the decision and the son of Rock Of Gibraltar certainly stayed on well over 1m4f to bolt up on handicap debut at Ripon last time out.

Another reason is Palmer is well-represented in the Old Rowley Cup anyway, with Doubling Dice and Emissary both potential runners in the heritage handicap at Newmarket.

Doubling Dice is 1lb wrong under a 6lb penalty, but the Teofilo gelding won nicely enough on handicap debut at Haydock and was value for plenty more than the half-length winning distance.

Emissary wins under James Doyle at Yarmouth

Emissary, a son of Kingman, was twice beaten at short prices either side of a Derby no-show, but he put it altogether in a first-time visor at Yarmouth last time when winning a handicap off 97.

Up 6lb, he’ll be top weight if he takes his chance on Friday.

As for Saeed bin Suroor, he could run Brilliant Light in the Old Rowley Cup.

The son of Sea The Stars made his debut when second to Darain at Newbury in July and he’s two from two since, winning a novice at Wolverhampton before he went in on handicap debut at Sandown on August 22.

That was a win achieved very late on over 10 furlongs, but the step up in trip will help as he bids to defy a 5lb hike in the weights.

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