LORD TO APPRECIATE CLASS DROP
GORDON LORD BYRON may not be the force of old but won’t necessarily need to be to secure his place in next month’s All-Weather Championships Sprint Final when he lines up in Dundalk’s Fast Track Qualifier on Friday.
Tom Hogan’s nine-year-old, who has won over £1.7 million in an illustrious career at the top level, stands out among the contenders for the Download The Award-Winning At The Races App Race (7.30).
The globetrotting son of Byron wasn’t disgraced in two valuable handicaps in Dubai in January off marks of 107 and 106 respectively and is a multiple course and distance winner at Dundalk.
Hogan’s star won’t come up against the calibre of Meydan opponents Baccarat, Jungle Cat and Final Venture on Friday and, despite being handed the widest draw, can get back into the winning groove as he bids to secure his place in Lingfield’s £150,000 Good Friday showpiece.
Togoville, Grey Danube and the former Richard Fahey-trained Patrick all have winning form at the track but should come up short on these terms – a comment that also applies to British raiders Pearl Spectre and Sign Of The Kodiac. The latter has the form to figure, having finished second in last year’s 3YO Sprint Final and has Pat Smullen for company, but has been below his best this winter.
FIRE CAN BURN UP DUNDALK RIVALS
Mark Johnston’s ever-dependable FIRE FIGHTING brings irresistible credentials to Friday night’s Fast Track Qualifier for the Easter Classic at Dundalk.
The six-year-old has won Listed races over course and distance and at Kempton as well as a string of big handicaps on turf, including the 2015 Zetland Gold Cup.
Now he can claim a guaranteed place in Good Friday’s £200,000 Middle Distance Final – a race he finished second in last year - by adding the Visit attheraces.com Race (8.30) to his impressive CV.
Johnston, who has engaged the services of Pat Smullen, has taken the opportunity to give his 112-rated journeyman performer a rare winter break – his first since 2013/14 – and returning to action a fresh horse can give him an added edge.
His main danger could be Jim Bolger’s classy four-year-old Sanus Per Aquam – winner of the Group 3 Somerville Tattersall Stakes at Newmarket as a juvenile but off the track since failing to build on that promise in a limited campaign last summer.
He will need to prove he has trained on, particularly as he returns from such a long lay-off, but will be an obvious threat if the fire still burns.
Andrew Balding’s mare Elbereth has been a solid Listed performer on the domestic scene for some time. She also ran a stormer to be second in last summer’s John Smith’s Cup at York and claimed a share of some decent prize money in Pattern races in Turkey and Italy in the autumn.
Twice a winner on synthetics, she ought to be good enough to make her presence felt but appeared to need a few runs to find her stride last year so might lack for match sharpness.
David Marnane’s Elleval – second in a 9f handicap at Meydan in February but without a win in almost three years – adds some depth to the race, along with the Willie Mullins-trained Pique Sous. He is being aimed at the Marathon Final on Good Friday so this trip will almost certainly be on the sharp side for the 2014 Queen Alexandra Stakes winner, who needs a win to qualify.
ISHARAH CAN JOIN STABLEMATE IN MARATHON FINAL
Ralph Beckett’s decision not to declare reigning Marathon Champion Moonrise Landing in the Betway Conditions Stakes at Lingfield Park on Saturday (3.10) presents Mark Johnston with an opportunity to clinch a Good Friday place with the improving ISHARAH.
Johnston ear-marked the US-bred gelding as a likely Finals Day contender before he stepped up to win over the extended 2m at Newcastle in January and he has already proven his ability to handle Lingfield’s sharp turns.
Despite giving away weight, Isharah went down narrowly to the prolific Petite Jack over 1m4f there in November, when that rival was rated only 77. Since then Neil King’s chestnut has won twice more and has improved around a stone and a half in the process.
Isharah’s momentum was temporarily halted at Wolverhampton last month when he missed the break in a competitive handicap but still did well to finish a staying on third, despite not having the race run to suit.
Whilst he must clearly improve markedly to win this Fast Track Qualifier and join stable companion Watersmeet in the Marathon showpiece, I’m convinced the four-year-old has the scope to do so against respected yet exposed opposition.
Winterlude and First Mohican – closely matched with ex-Italian Vettori Rules on Kempton form - bring some solidity to the line up but both look vulnerable to their younger, more progressive rival. The latter, an ex-Italian performer, got the 2m well at the Sunbury track on only his second domestic start and may have more to offer.
IMPROVING CASTLE TO SOLVE DASH DILEMMA
The Betway Dash Handicap (4.20) at Lingfield on Saturday sets a teasing form puzzle but I expect Andrew Balding’s improving speedball VERNE CASTLE to provide the answer.
This late-developing son of top sprinter Lochangel hasn’t looked back since securing his first win at the 11th attempt at Chelmsford City last August. Since then he has won four more handicaps – two of them over Saturday’s flying 5f.
However, Verne Castle posted a clear career best when only overhauled late on by Royal Birth and Lancelot Du Lac in the Listed Hever Stakes over course and distance last month.
He must carry a 9lb higher mark back into a handicap but this still looks a gilt-edged opportunity for a forward-going gelding who is well berthed in stall one and has the hallmarks of a Pattern performer in the making.
He receives 3lb from Kimberella, who ran a blinder in Listed company over 6f at Lingfied in the autumn and should acquit himself well on his first start for Richard Fahey.
7.30 GORDON LORD BYRON
8.30 FIRE FIGHTING
4.20 VERNE CASTLE (Nap)
Ed Vaughan’s filly STAINTONDALE LASS improved nicely on turf last year, winning at Bath and Lingfield, and seems poised to resume that progress this spring.
She looked in need of her re-appearance effort but built on that when not beaten far in a race at Lingfield that favoured more prominent runners. It was no surprise, then, to see her go close in a fillies’ handicap at Wolverhampton last Saturday when she closed down winner Shypen. She is poised to strike soon off a clearly workable mark.
John Quinn’s filly ACADIAN ANGEL missed the break in a 7f maiden at Newcastle last week but finished her race off much better than she started it.
She was soon able to latch onto her rivals in a slowly run race but quickened well, despite her greenness, to chase through impressive winner Aquamarina. This half-sister to 7f All-Weather winners should come on a bundle for that and can win a similar maiden.
Mick Appleby’s sprinter ESCALATING has taken his form to a new level since being gelded, scoring over 5f at Southwell before posting a notable effort over an additional furlong there last week.
His chance was compromised when he met trouble early in the race but, despite being produced wide on the home turn, he ran on well for Silvestre De Sousa to finish second. Winner Crosse Fire was already home and dry but compensation surely awaits.
Kevin Ryan’s son of Kheleyf RAG TATTER has had a few near misses in maiden company but looks a stronger horse now and deserves credit for his effort in a 6f Chelmsford City maiden the other day.
Stepping up in trip, he set a good tempo only to be collared by the less exposed Cinque Port, but had the third horse fully 6l behind.
He can win one of these in the coming weeks but also looks capable of holding his own in 0-75 grade handicaps before racing gets more competitive.