Future Champions Festival

The Future Champions Festival is the highlight of the so-called Gold Season, which is the term used by the Jockey Club to describe the late summer and autumn programme of horse racing on the Rowley Mile Course at Newmarket, Suffolk, in the East of England. The two-day meeting, which is staged annually in October, is sponsored by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai and, under the terms of the sponsorship deal, is officially known as the Dubai Future Champions Festival.

As the name suggests, the Dubai Future Champions Festival combines races of the highest class for promising young horses, including Group 1 feature races on each day, with a selection that are open to their older counterparts.

The highlight of the opening day, a.k.a. “Autumn Ladies Day”, is the Group 1 bet365 Fillies’ Mile, which offers £500,000 in prize money and is, in fact, the most valuable race for two-year-old fillies’ in Europe. The Fillies’ Mile was inaugurated in 1973, at Ascot, where it was run under various names, for sponsorship purposes, before being transferred to Newmarket, as the Shadwell Fillies’ Mile, in 2011. The race was awarded Group 3 status in 1975, elevated to Group 2 status in 1986 and finally achieved Group 1 status in 1990.

Similarly, the Group 1 Darley Dewhurst Stakes, run over 7 furlongs and open to two-year-old colts and fillies, is the feature race on the second day. The outcome of the prestigious race, which also offers £500,000 in total prize money, making it the most valuable race of its kind in Europe, jointly with the bet365 Fillies’ Mile, usually has a bearing on the betting for the One Thousand Guineas and/or the Two Thousand Guineas, back on the Rowley Mile the following spring.

Nowadays, the second day of the Dubai Future Champions Festival also includes the second leg of the traditional “Autumn Double”, the Cesarewitch, an historic ‘heritage’ handicap run over 2 miles 2 furlongs and open to horses aged three years and upwards. In 2018, the total prize money for the Cesarewitch doubled, to £500,000, with plans for further increases, to £750,000 in 2019 and £1 million in 2020.

Cambridgeshire Meeting

The Cambridgeshire Meeting is staged on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday in late September on the Rowley Mile Course at Newmarket, on the Suffolk-Cambridgeshire border, and culminates with the Cambridgeshire Heritage Handicap on the final day. The Cambridgeshire was inaugurated in 1839, the same year as the Cesarewitch, which is run over 2 miles 2 furlongs on the Cesarewitch Course at Newmarket two weeks later, and together they constitute the traditional “Autumn Double”. Nowadays, horses rarely, if ever, contest both races.

The Rowley Mile is an exceedingly wide, galloping course with a safety limit of 35 which, combined with the specialist distance of 1 mile 1 furlong and the typical assortment of entries, makes the Cambridgeshire a fiendishly difficult race to unravel. Three favourites have won the Cambridgeshire since the turn of the twenty-first century, but winners at 100/1, 50/1, 40/1, 33/1 and 25/1 in the same period provide an indication of the onerous task faced by punters.

Of course, the Cambridgeshire, climatic though it is, is just one of 22 races – not including the Shetland Pony Grand National Team Flat Race – run over the three days of the Cambridgeshire Meeting. The Thursday features the Group 3 Tattersalls Stakes, an informative contest for juvenile colts and geldings, run over 7 furlongs, closely followed by the Listed Jockey Club Rose Bowl, open to horses aged three years and upwards, over 2 miles. The latter is a fairly recent addition to the Newmarket programme, having been run as the Fenwolf Stakes, at Ascot, until 2011.

Two Group 2 races, the Rockfel Stakes, over 7 furlongs for juvenile fillies, and the Joel Stakes, over a mile for three-year-olds and older horses, dominate proceedings on the Friday, while the Cheveley Park Stakes, for juvenile fillies, and the Middle Park Stakes, for juvenile colts, both run over 6 furlongs, are keenly anticipated Group 1 contests on the Saturday.

Ayr Gold Cup

Formerly the Western Meeting, the Ayr Gold Cup Festival is staged annually at Ayr Racecourse, in south-west Scotland, on the shores of the Firth of Clyde, in September. It is, in fact, the most valuable Flat racing meeting staged in Scotland and takes its name from the feature race, which is run on the third, and final, day.

The Ayr Gold Cup, run over 6 furlongs, was first staged in its current guise in 1908 and, nowadays, is one of the major sprint handicaps in Europe. Unsurprisingly, the race regularly attracts numerous high-quality entries from both sides of the Irish Sea, but the safety limit at Ayr is just 25. Consequently, the Ayr Gold Cup is always vastly oversubscribed, so much so that entries for the race are accepted on the understanding that, at the 48-hour declaration stage, connections may nominate their horse(s) for entry to the primary consolation race, the Ayr Silver Cup, or the secondary consolation race, the Ayr Bronze Cup.

The Ayr Bronze Cup, which was inaugurated in 2009, takes place on the middle day of the three-day Festival, a.k.a. Ladies Day, while the Ayr Silver Cup, which was inaugurated in 1992, takes place on the final day, as a precursor to the Ayr Gold Cup itself. Fittingly, the total prize money on offer increases, incrementally, from £30,000 for the Ayr Bronze Cup to £60,000 for the Ayr Silver Cup to £200,000 for the Ayr Gold Cup.

Of course, the Ayr Gold Cup Festival is not just about major sprint handicaps. The highlight of the opening day is the Doonside Cup, a Listed contest run over 1 mile 2 furlongs and worth £65,000 in total prize money. Between the Ayr Silver Cup and the Ayr Gold Cup, the Firth of Clyde Stakes, which was elevated to Group 3 status in 2004 and is the only Pattern race run in Scotland, is also run on the straight 6-furlong course, but is restricted to two-year-old fillies only.


Haydock Sprint Cup

The Sprint Cup Festival is one of the most prestigious meetings of the season at Haydock Park Racecourse, on Merseyside in North West England, and is staged annually over three days in early September.

Run over a straight 6 furlongs since 1986, and elevated to Group 1 status two years later, the Sprint Cup is the most valuable race staged at Haydock Park, with total prize money of £325,200 and, nowadays, is the penultimate race in the QIPCO British Champions Series Sprint Category. The Sprint Cup was inaugurated in 1966 and originally run in early November, before being switched to September in 1979. The race was the brainchild of the late Robert Sangster, whose father founded Vernons Pool, and was run as the Vernons Sprint Cup for the first 22 years of its existence. Sangster saw his own distinctive white, emerald green, and royal blue colours carried to victory by Orojoya in 1985.

Initially, the Sprint Cup was open to juveniles and, in fact, the inaugural winner was the two-year-old Be Friendly, owned by the late Sir Peter O’Sullevan. Be Friendly won the Sprint Cup again in 1967 and may have done so again in 1968, but for the abandonment of the meeting due to fog. Nevertheless, he remains the only horse to have won the Sprint Cup twice and his achievement is commemorated by a life-size statue overlooking the paddock at Haydock Park.

Other notable winners of the Sprint Cup include Habibti in 1983 and Dayjur in 1990. Coincidentally, both were ridden by Willie Carson, both also won the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp the following month and both were named British Horse of the Year. The late John Dunlop, who trained Habibti, also saddled Runnett (1981), Lavinia Fontana (1994) and Invincible Spirit (2002) to win the Sprint Cup and remains the most successful trainer in the history of the race.

The supporting card for the Sprint Cup also includes the Superior Mile Stakes, a Group 3 contest run over 1 mile and 37 yards, and the Old Borough Cup, a valuable and historic ‘heritage’ handicap run over 1 mile 6 furlongs. Both races are open to horses aged three years and upwards.