October brings not only Autumn but the close of the British flat racing season. Although action continues on all-weather courses up and down the land, the turf meetings come to an end this month.
Newmarket holds a flurry of meetings during September and October known as Gold Season, but the last of the key racing fixtures comes in the form of their Future Champions Festival which takes places over two days, Friday and Saturday, during the second weekend in October.
The Future Champions is named as such because over half for the fourteen races are for two year olds. These will give us a glimpse of who will be competing for the major honours, including the five Classics, next season.
Juvenile races aren’t all that is show however, with the ever popular Cesarewitch Handicap one of the major highlights for punters.
Day One Races (Friday)
|12:45||Godolphin Maiden Fillies’ Stakes (Div I)||Class 3||7f|
|1:15||Godolphin Maiden Fillies’ Stakes (Div II)||Class 4||7f|
|1:50||Cornwallis Stakes||Group 3||5f|
|2:25||Godolphin Oh So Sharp Stakes||Group 3||7f|
|3:00||Godolphin Stud & Stable Staff Awards Challenge Stakes||Group 2||7f|
|3:35||bet365 Fillies’ Mile||Group 1||1m|
|4:10||bet365 Old Rowley Cup Handicap||Class 2||1m4f|
|4:45||Darley Pride Stakes||Group 3||1m2f|
Day Two Races (Saturday)
|1:10||Dubai Nursery Handicap||Class 2||7f|
|1:45||Godolphin Flying Start Zetland Stakes||Group 3||1m2f|
|2:20||Emirates Autumn Stakes||Group 3||1m|
|2:55||Darley Dewhurst Stakes||Group 1||7f|
|3:35||Cesarewitch Handicap||Class 2||2m2f|
|4:15||Dubai British EBF Boadicea Stakes||Listed||6f|
|4:50||Darley Stakes||Group 3||1m1f|
A Complete History of the Newmarket Future Champions Festival
The Newmarket Future Champions Festival is a modern creation, only established as a two-day event in 2015. While a complete baby as far as racing festivals go, it does have links dating back further than this. The festival stems from the Future Champions Day, created in 2011, which itself was modified from an existing day of October racing.
Given its initial success and popularity, it would not be at all surprising if this festival is one that remains on our calendars for years to come. Currently scheduled every October, the festival contributes to an exceptional autumn schedule of racing at Newmarket. Whilst many view it as a very modern affair, as we will soon find out, in one sense we can trace its roots way back to the 19th century!
1839 – Cesarewitch established
The Cesarewitch Handicap, the longest running race to feature at the Future Champions Festival, first appeared in 1839. The name stems from the anglicised version of Tsesarevich as Tsesarevich Alexander (subsequently Tsar Alexander II of Russia) donated £300 to the Jockey Club. The inaugural running was won by a horse named Cruiskeen. Established during the same year as the Cambridgeshire Handicap, the pair were later referred to as the Autumn Double.
1875 – Dewhurst Stakes founded
The Dewhurst Stakes is one of the events that has made the Future Champions Meeting possible. Founded in 1875, it has a truly rich history and one that has witnessed some of the finest juvenile thoroughbreds around. For many years it has stood as the most prestigious contest exclusively for two-year-old horses. Among the former list of winners include the likes of true racing greats such as Nijinsky (1969), Mill Reef (1970), Rock of Gibraltar (2001) and the incomparable Frankel (2010).
1945 – Filly wins the Dewhurst
The Dewhurst Stakes often ends up an all-colts affair but the contest has been open to fillies since its inception. In fact, its first nine renewals saw four victorious fillies in what was a largely even battle of the sexes. There has since been a huge shift towards the boys though who have dominated this race ever since. Our last female winner came in 1945, by the name of Hypericum, a filly bred and owned by none other than King George VI.
1973 – Inaugural running of the Fillies’ Mile
Today the Fillies’ Mile stands as one of the standout races of the Future Champions Festival but it has spent much of its history at Ascot. It was at the royal racecourse where it first emerged, then known as the Green Shield Stakes and later the Argos Star Fillies’ Mile. The race did not get off to the best off starts though as the second ever running had to be cancelled due to waterlogging at Ascot.
1987 – Oh So Sharp Stakes introduced
The Newmarket-trained fillies’ Triple Crown winner, Oh So Sharp, received a race named in her honour two years after her superb hat-trick of wins. It began as an ungraded conditions race but six years later it enjoyed promotion to Listed status and then later another promotion to Group 3.
1988 – Darley Stakes & Autumn Stakes make first appearance
The Darley Stakes & Autumn Stakes were first scheduled to appear in 1987 but high winds and structural damage to Newmarket forced the postponement of their inaugural running. Both were, however, able to appear the following year without issues. In the Darley Stakes, jockey Ray Cochrane and trainer Luca Cumani combined to clinch victory while future 2,000 Guineas and Epsom Derby winner Nashwan won the Autumn Stakes.
1988 – Dewhurst dead heat
Dead heats are something of a rarity in racing especially since the invention of photo finish technology. Newmarket spectators did however witness one during the 1988 renewal of the Dewhurst Stakes. Coming into the final furlong there was virtually nothing to separate horses very much at opposite ends of the market, Prince of Dance (6/4F) and Scenic (33/1). The huge underdog threatened to pull away slightly just as the line approached but Prince of Dance, ridden by the brilliant Willie Carson, dug deep to share the spoils.
1998 – Pride Stakes established
The Pride Stakes was rolled out for the first time in 1998 with Lady In Waiting crowned our first champion. The race should not be confused with the Pride Stakes that briefly featured at Newmarket before becoming the British Champions Fillies and Mares Stake at Ascot.
2011 – Future Champions Day Meeting Established
To find the origins of today’s Future Champions Festival you do not have to look back far. In 2011, Newmarket launched the first ever edition of Future Champions Day on Saturday 8th October.
The new fixture was part of a major shakeup to British racing, which also saw the creation of Champions Day at Ascot, scheduled just a week later. Sponsored by Dubai, the inaugural running of Future Champions Day saw a prize fund exceeding £800,000 across seven races.
Part of the new plans saw Newmarket swap several races with Ascot, the likes of the Champion Stakes, Jockey Club Cup and Pride Stakes moving from Suffolk to Berkshire. To fill the Future Champions schedule, Newmarket received the Autumn Stakes in return while the Middle Park Stakes and the Darley Stakes were brought back and forward a week respectively. Got that?
2012 – Aaim to Prosper makes Cesarewitch history
The only eligibility requirement for the Cesarewitch is that a horse must be at least three-years-old. This provides horses with the opportunity to give this race multiple attempts providing they are high enough in the weights. Despite this, the regularly competitive handicap did not see a double winner for the first 173 years of its history. This finally can to an end in 2012 as Aaim to Prosper, two years after his first triumph, scored a shock 66/1 win as top weight.
2014 – First ever Varsity Race
Oxford and Cambridge University have had a long history of battling it out in sport, most famously in rowing boats on the Thames, but never previously through a Varsity flat horse race. This new way of scoring bragging rights featured as the final race of Future Champions Day 2014.
10 student riders competed in the one-mile contest, an equal split of five for each university. With spectating students enjoying free admission, many fellow students were in attendance to cheer on their respective university.
To mark the inaugural running of the Varsity Race, Cheltenham Racecourse Chairman Robert Waley-Cohen donated the Bearsted Trophy. It is for this reason you may see the contest referred to as the Bearsted Perpetual Challenge Trophy. It was a fitting donation as the trophy had previously been handed to the winner of a point-to-point contest between riders from Cambridge and Oxford Universities.
Last held in 1939, Waley-Cohen’s father in law, Lord Bearsted, won the final renewal. In 2014, the trophy went the way of Cambridge who bested their rivals 56 points to 45.
2014 – Fillies’ Mile added to the schedule
The Fillies’ Mile had spent much of its illustrious past at Ascot Racecourse, as mentioned earlier. This changed on a permanent basis in 2011 when the contest moved to Newmarket, taking a spot in the three-day Cambridgeshire Meeting. It did not stick around long here though as just three years later it swapped places with the Rockfel Stakes, becoming the latest addition to the Future Champions Day.
Aidan O’Brien’s Together Forever won the first running following the move. This marked the first of three successive victories the Irish trainer secured in this race, a feat that had never previously been achieved.
2015 – Extra day of racing sparks birth of festival
Keen to build on the initial success of Future Champions Day, organisers at Newmarket opted to turn the day into a two-day festival. New races needed bringing in to fill the schedule so the likes of the Oh So Sharp Stakes, Zetland Stakes, Autumn Stakes, Cesarewitch Handicap and the Boadicea Filles’ Stakes all moved from elsewhere in Newmarket’s calendar.
Although it was mainly a case of new contests being brought in, the Middle Park Stakes left the Future Champions rota, returning to its previous slot in the Cambridgeshire Meeting.
Over £2m in prize money was up for grabs in the first edition of the Future Champions Festival sponsored by Dubai. This represented an increase of more than £500,000 compared to the 2014 Future Champions Day and Cesarewitch Day combined.
The British Horseracing Authority, who had been receiving requests to improve the two-year-old autumn programme, warmly received and approved the proposal. In doing so, it prevented the Dewhurst Stakes running at the same weekend as Ascot’s Champions Day. Both days of the festival saw seven ‘official’ races but the Saturday also hosted the second running of the Varsity Race between Oxford and Cambridge.
2019 – Pride Stakes and Zetland Stakes upgraded
The one mile, two furlong Pride Stakes was reclassified as a Group 3 contest. Formerly a Listed outing, the race previously known as the Severals Stakes became yet another group level event to feature during the Future Champions Festival. Frankie Dettori rode the winner on the contest’s Group 3 debut, moving his overall tally to a record-breaking six.
The Zetland Stakes, which was ungraded between 2007 and 2014, was also reclassified from Listed to Group 3 the very same year. Two years earlier, eventual St Leger and British Champions Long Distance Cup winner Kew Gardens, secured victory in the 1m 2f battle.