The Cesarewitch, named in honour of Russia’s Tsesarevich Alexander (later Tsar Alexander II) as a result of his generosity towards the Jockey Club, was established in 1839, the same year as another major handicap at Newmarket, the Cambridgeshire.
The two races have often been linked in betting terms as the Autumn Double, and the subject of numerous attempted plunges, not all successful. It was not unknown for horses in the 19th Century to attempt the double, but with the exception of the Stuart Morrison-owned Nanton, it is a feat which is rarely attempted in the modern era.
The race – which takes place on Saturday, October 13 this year – has moved around in terms of date, and used to be run before the Cambridgeshire, but is invariably run in October, and is now part of recently established Future Champions’ Day.
Prize-money for the big race has doubled in 2018, with the race now worth £500,000 and due to have a prize fund of double that by 2020. This will fundamentally alter the quality of the contest, and this must be borne in mind when analysing the race in tandem with prior runnings.
Due to the timing of the race and its extreme distance of two miles two furlongs, it has become more and more of a focus for leading jumps trainers, with the likes of Martin Pipe, Nicky Henderson and Philip Hobbs all successful more than once, and around half the winners in the past forty years or so could be described as dual-purpose performers, for all victory at Newmarket has tended to be a catalyst for a jumps campaign, rather than vice versa.
In terms of profile of winners, there are some dangerous assumptions being made, such as that 3-y-o's are disadvantaged, when that age group have been poorly represented in recent years. That will change, and I can see an era when the Classic generation achieve dominance. One trend which is worth considering is that towards lightly-weighted horses, and the effect of weight over long distances is clearly greater than that over standard trips, which makes it hard, although not impossible, for those with big weights to succeed.
This is not a race which Aidan O’Brien has targeted, but he has five entries this year, and all of them are of interest should they be given the office to take part. Southwest France, in particular, would have a huge chance, but this race is only a week before the British Champions Long Distance Cup, which must be under consideration. O’Brien’s quintet are all 3-y-o's, and that may be a taste of what’s to come from the Ballydoyle maestro.
The C&D Cesarewitch Trial held last weekend has a poor record at predicting the winner of the main event, but Big Easy was beaten in that before winning the Cesarewitch itself in 2014, so the double is possible, and Stars Over The Sea is underrated due to a false assumption that he stole the Trial from the front. In fact, he put up a smart front-running performance to win by ten lengths in a time which suggested he was full value for the victory, if possibly not the margin.
There are very few horses who can maintain a strong gallop over the Cesarewitch course, and last year’s race, where Withhold did something similar, shows what such tactics can do to the field. It rarely gets mentioned, but track position is hugely important even in a race like this, and there are very few winners of this contest who score by virtue of a turn of foot.
In handicapping terms, Stars Over The Sea is well-treated under a mandatory 4lb penalty, but it’s his ability to go hard in the early stages and maintain a gallop which mark him down as an ideal candidate for the job. The negative for him is his big weight, and the ‘Ces’ is a race in which lightweights have done particularly well.
If you make a case for Stars Over The Sea, then Cleonte must also be considered after the pair finished first and second in the Shergar Cup Stayers, and Andrew Balding’s charge is another who should appreciate the stamina test provided at Newmarket.
The biggest force in jump racing at the present time is undoubtedly Willie Mullins, and his big-race successes on the level have come almost exclusively with horses who had previously been campaigned primarily as hurdlers, like Max Dynamite (Lonsdale Cup), Wicklow Brave (Irish St Leger), Renneti (Loughbrown Stakes) and Thomas Hobson (Doncaster Cup).
He has won the Ascot Stakes and Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot on multiple occasions, while Sesenta won the Ebor and Stratum provided a big staying handicap win more recently in Britain, so it’s surely only a matter of time before a beefed-up Cesarewitch falls into his clutches.
Of the Mullins horses, Limini(currently 12/1 with Bet365) makes most appeal, being less ground reliant than Law Girl, who was second to her in Leopardstown’s Petingo Handicap recently. Limini clearly stays well, but has the speed for shorter trips on the Flat, which is a useful asset, but again she has her share of weight in absolute terms, for all she’s still feasibly handicapped.
Stratum, favourite with the best racing bookmakers, represents last year’s winning owner, and was unlucky from an inside draw in the Ebor, having won the new JLT Cup at Newbury prior to that, beating Kloud Gate.
The latter, trained by a man formerly specialising in jumpers in Gary Moore, is very interesting off a 2lb higher mark, and with a 6lb swing in the weights with Stratum. He caught the eye on his first Flat start for his current yard in the Ascot Stakes, and faced an impossible task trying to run down Lil Rockerfeller in the 2m5f Goodwood Stakes next time, doing well to throw down a brief challenge before that effort told.
He clearly stays well, remains well treated on his French form for Gianluca Bietolini, and the fact that he’s been rested since Goodwood, which came hard on the heels of the JLT, suggests that he’s been kept fresh for this. Moore is an excellent target trainer, as his list of successes in the hugely valuable Betfair Hurdle at Newbury would attest.
Aidan O’Brien could spoil the party, but it’s hard to tell which, if any, of his entries will be aimed at the race as it stands, whereas Willie Mullins definitely intends to come mob-handed, and Limini makes most appeal having got herself firmly back on track at Leopardstown, rallying splendidly to repel a stablemate after sweeping to the front from off the pace.
Stratum could also be fancied for Closutton, but the horse he beat into second at Newbury in July, Kloud Gate(33/1 with William Hill), is taken to turn the tables on revised terms, and Gary Moore’s charge has gone under the radar somewhat despite solid runs in three valuable staying handicaps this summer.