THERE is something magical about this time of year.
The days are gradually getting shorter as summer gives way to autumn and soon the leaves will begin to drop.
It is also the time of year when the cream of the two-year-old crop rises to the surface as big reputations are finally put on the line.
We are in for a real treat at Newmarket tomorrow as three of the most exciting juveniles around face off in a mouth-watering Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes (3.00pm), which is already being billed as the race of the season.
It’s a Group One contest normally won by a top-class colt and the fact it has produced both of the last two July Cup winners is testament to that.
There are three talented unbeaten colts in the six-furlong showdown and only one can emerge with that record intact.
That colt in my opinion will be Andre Fabre’s EARTHLIGHT who has a perfect four-from-four record at home in France this season.
The latest of those successes came in the Group One Prix Morny at Deauville back in August.
He may have only won by a neck that day, but the race was arguably the hottest two-year-old race run anywhere in Europe this season.
This son of Shamardal had three Royal Ascot winners (Raffle Prize, Arizona and A’Ali) in behind him that day and showed both class and guts to repel all of them on bad ground.
He seems versatile when it comes to conditions, although his ability to handle a rain-softened surface is a bonus considering the weather we have had this week already.
Fabre tends not to leave Newmarket empty handed on his rare forays to these shores and his horse should take all the beating.
The market suggests he has most to fear from the Richard Hannon-trained Mums Tipple who had everyone rubbing their eyes and checking their watches when blitzing a competitive-looking field in a valuable York Sales race by 11 lengths.
He looked like a Group One performer that day and there is every chance the son of Footstepsinthesand is the real deal.
However, he is priced as if he is already proven at this level and at as short as 9/4 with Coral, I am prepared to leave him out of the equation.
His stablemate Threat finished runner-up at both Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood but has since won the Gimcrack and Champagne Stakes.
He steps up in class here, but it would be dangerous to dismiss him as he has finally got the winning habit.
That said, I prefer the chances of Irish raider SISKIN, who is another unbeaten in all four starts.
Like Earthlight, he was successful when stepped up to Group One company on his final start and also seems versatile when it comes to ground.
He looks sure to be bang in the mix and at least has a top flight success under his belt.
Aidan O’Brien is looking to win the race for a third year on the trot and saddles MONARCH OF EGYPT and Lope Y Fernandez.
Marginal preference is for the former who had a setback earlier in the summer but has since chased Siskin home in the Phoenix Stakes.
There shouldn’t be much between them again this time and it can be argued that he is value at around 9/1 to improve past Siskin.
Lope Y Fernandez bounced back to form in the Round Tower Stakes at the Curragh last time and this six furlong trip looks ideal.
He needs to step up on that to trouble the leading contenders here, though.
Golden Horde proved too good for Threat in the Richmond Stakes at Goodwood but has a fair bit of ground to make up on Earthlight on their Prix Morny running.
Fabre’s colt was always holding him that day and should come out on top again in an intriguing contest.
BILL ESDAILE’S Middle Park Stakes 1-2-3
2. Monarch Of Egypt