The earliest juvenile contests of the season are not where you expect to see future Group 1 winners showcased, but sometimes they do yield performers of note. There are various examples that could be provided, but here are three, one of whom we saw just this afternoon.
The 2009 edition of the Brocklesby Stakes, the opening turf race for two-year-olds in England, was won easily by the 12/1 colt Hearts Of Fire. By mid-July he had been stakes placed but looked well-exposed. Then he stepped-up to seven furlongs, ran away with a listed contest at Deauville, followed-up in a Group 3 race at Baden-Baden and then beat subsequent Grade 1 scorer Vale Of York by a neck in the Group 1 Gran Criterium over a mile on soft ground at San Siro.
He was well-beaten in the Group 1 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on his seasonal reappearance, but then finished third to Canford Cliffs and Dick Turpin in the Group 1 St James's Palace Stakes at Ascot, beaten by one length and three-parts of a length and with Siyouni a half-length behind in fourth. The rest of his subsequent form failed to match that peak performance.
In 2012, Jim Bolger introduced a first-crop son of juvenile champion and classic star New Approach in the opening two-year-old race of the Irish season. Dawn Approach won that by one and three-quarter lengths, followed-up with a runaway success over six furlongs at Naas and went through the rest of the season undefeated, crowned European champion of his age group.
The Group 1 National Stakes, Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes and Group 2 Coventry Stakes winner extended his unbeaten record to seven with a five-length score in the Group 1 2000 Guineas on his first start at three, and after that inexplicably bad run in the Derby, he bounced back 17 days later to short-head Toronado in the Group 1 St James's Palace Stakes.
Dawn Approach did not win again after that, but he was runner-up in the Group 1 Sussex Stakes, fourth (no blacktype) in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, and the Kildangan Stud team member has his first yearlings on offer now. From those sold so far, he has had €300,000 and €255,000 fillies in Deauville and a £110,000 colt at Doncaster.
The third example on which I will comment here occurred at Newmarket this afternoon, when the Mark Johnston-trained colt The Last Lion won the Group 1 Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes.
This was his tenth run of the year, he made a winning debut in the aforementioned Brocklesby Stakes at Doncaster, and although he is tough and admirable, there is no reason to get carried away in assessing his future. The horse he beat by four lengths in the Group 3 Sirenia Stakes on the polytrack at Kempton earlier in the month is the same one who, at 66/1, finished exactly four lengths behind him at Newmarket, this time in fifth place.
Today's runner-up, Blue Point, trounced him when they were first and third in the Group 2 Gimcrack Stakes at York last month, he won the Listed Dragon Stakes at Sandown in July, was runner-up in each of the Group 2 Flying Childers Stakes, Group 2 Norfolk Stakes and Group 3 Molecomb Stakes, and he was rated just 105.
He is a fast, precocious and tough Danehill-line horse, his relations include a classic-winning miler who was also a leading juvenile, and, further back, there is a juvenile mile Group 1 scorer on the page. This is the sort of profile that will likely guarantee that he gets a busy role at stud somewhere whenever his racing days come to an end.
How highly in the ranks he can rise remains to be seen. Time analysis of today's race will be interesting, and his official handicap mark will surely rise. But that repeated four-length gap to Koropick means that to accept that he suddenly produced a leap forward in form on his tenth start then we also have to accept that the 66/1 long-shot matched his sudden progress. Maybe they did, or maybe the reliability of the form is a little suspect.
For the record, Blue Point was the three-quarter-length runner-up, Mehmas weakened to finish another two and a quarter lengths back in third, Intelligence Cross was another half-length back in fourth, with Koropick and Mokarris another half-length and head behind. The overall time was slower than that of Brave Anna in the Group 1 Connolly's Red Mills Cheveley Park Stakes 35 minutes earlier.
The Last Lion, who was bred by the partnership of Barronstown Stud and Liz Stack, is the ninth individual Group 1 winner among a career total of 74 blacktype scorers for Coolmore's sprint ace Choisir (by Danehill Dancer).
His last European crop, for now at least, are yearlings, and those who have won at the highest level for him in the northern hemisphere are ace miler Olympic Glory (stands at Haras de Bouquetot; foals in 2016), dual US mile Grade 1 scorer Obviously, and top sprinter/miler Starspangledbanner (sire of Group 1 winner The Wow Signal, etc).
The Last Lion is an €82,000 graduate of the Goffs Orby Sale and his Power (by Oasis Dream) half-brother is catalogued as Lot 142 in Tuesday's opening session of this year's renewal of that famous auction, also consigned by Glenvale Stud.
He is out of Mala Mala (by Brief Truce), who finished third in the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes and in the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes in 2000, all eight of the mare's progeny to race have been winners and half of them are blacktype horses.
In addition to today's big winner, she is the dam of the pattern-placed dual stakes-winning sprinter Contest (by Danehill Dancer), of the dual listed scorer Russian Rock (by Rock Of Gibraltar) and of the stakes-placed colt Horizon Sky (by Duke Of Marmalade). Russian Rock's overall total of 11 wins catches the eye, but it is beaten by that of Contest's full-brother Silvanus.
Now aged 11 and trained by Paul Midgley, the most recent of Silvanus's 15 wins, all of them over the minimum trip, came at Ripon in early August of last year. He was only beaten by four lengths when out of the frame in a handicap at that same venue this afternoon, the 113th outing of his career, and his current handicap mark of 84 is down from a peak of 97.
Mala Mala is one of only four winners, from nine foals, out of the four-times scorer Breyani (by Commanche Run), who stayed two miles, but they include the Group 2 Prix Guillaume d'Ornano and Group 3 Rose of Lancaster Stakes winner Mister Monet (by Peintre Celebre) and his classic-winning half-sister Tarascon (by Tirol).
The joint-champion juvenile filly in Ireland in 1997, she won the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes and went on to add the following year's Group 1 Irish 1000 Guineas. She is the dam of two blacktype earners and the grandam of another one.
There are several blacktype winners descended from Molokai (by Prince Tenderfoot), the winning third dam of The Last Lion – she is, for example, the fourth dam of 2013's Group 1 New Zealand 1000 Guineas heroine Costa Viva (by Encosta De Lago) - but what catches the eye is that she was was a full-sister to the Group 3 Fillies' Mile scorer Icing, who went on to become the dam of the stakes-winning quintet of Al Hareb, Rising, Snowtop, Cerussite and Dr Somerville.
The latter, a son of Chief's Crown (by Danzig), won the nine-furlong Group 3 Prix de Conde by five lengths as a juvenile and added a narrow defeat of Goofalik in the 10-furlong Group 3 La Coupe de Maisons-Laffitte at three.
Al Hareb was one of the most talked about two-year-olds of 1988. A first-crop son of the brilliant El Gran Senor (by Northern Dancer), he was an eight-length debut winner over seven furlongs at Salisbury in early July, disappointed behind High Estate in the Group 3 Vintage Stakes at Goodwood, but then bounced back to take a seven-furlong conditions race at Ascot before beating Zalzal by a length and a half in the Group 1 William Hill Futurity Stakes (now Racing Post Trophy) over a mile at Doncaster.
Sadly, he did not live up to that potential. He was a well-beaten last of five in the Group 3 Craven Stakes, won by the subsequent Group 1 Irish 2000 Guineas scorer Shaadi, and was not seen out again. His European progeny included the stakes-winning filly Bearall, but his Australian-born offspring featured the multiple Group 1 sprint star Hareeba.
Rising (by Relkino) won the Listed Mooresbridge Stakes, Listed Ulster Harp Derby and Listed Waterford Crystal Nursery, Group 2 Beresford Stakes runner-up Cerussite (by Malinowski) won a listed contest in California, and Snowtop (by Thatching) won a listed handicap in Ireland before going on to become the ancestor of a plethora of stakes winners around the world.
Those descendants include the Group 1 Prix Morny winner and successful sire Myboycharlie (by Danetime), Australian Group 1 sprint star and blacktype sire Snowland (by Snippets), classic winners in India, the Group 1-placed European blacktype sprint winners Kendam (by Kendargent) and Asset (by Marju), listed scorer and last week's Ayr Silver Cup sixth Ninjago (by Mount Nelson), and various others.
Mahasin (by Danzig), a dual-winning daughter of Icing, did her part for the family by becoming the dam of the US Grade 2 scorer Elhayq (by Nashwan) and Group 3 Minstrel Stakes winner Shibl (by Arazi), and she is the grandam of Group 2 Norfolk Stakes scorer Baitha Alga (by Fast Company).
The Last Lion is now a Group 1-winning juvenile and he is among the ante-post market leaders for next year's Group 1 Commonwealth Cup. He is likely to need to improve further if he is to have a realistic chance of taking that important recent addition to the racing calendar, but should be capable of having a good career as a sprinter.
Looking farther ahead, his two-year-old record will attract plenty of attention from stallion farms and the similarities between his pedigree and that of Myboycharlie won't be missed: they are Danehill-line horses and their respective third dams are full-sisters.
There is one final question to consider with this talented young colt and it is this: might he stay a mile?
It is likely that he won't be asked to try, but his sire was Group 1-placed on his only two tries at that distance and he sires top-class milers, and this colt is not only out of a seven-furlong-placed half-sister to a classic winner, but has the top-class miler Brief Truce (by Irish River) as a broodmare sire and a two-mile winner for a grandam.
He has a Group 1 win to his name, a reputation for being tough and talented, and a pedigree that gives him a chance of staying, so what would there be to lose by giving it a go?