EVANS SPRINTER HOLDS THE KEY TO NEWCASTLE FAST TRACK
GRACIOUS JOHN can claim his place in the £150,000 Sprint Final at Lingfield Park on Good Friday by winning the Betway Conditions Stakes at Newcastle on Thursday (5.00) – a Fast Track Qualifier for the All-Weather Championships showpiece.
David Evans’s sprinter showed he was back to his best with an authoritative victory at Lingfield early last month but probably bettered that when finding only Distant Past too good under a big weight in a course and distance handicap before Christmas.
The four-year-old gave his victor 16lbs that day (discounting his rider’s claim) but still managed to out-speed the likes of Caspian Prince and Line Of Reason, who both performed with credit at the Dubai Carnival last week.
Back in conditions company, Gracious John should prove tough to deny. He is the highest rated horse in the line-up off 110 and should be ideally suited by the likely strong pace, with Mythmaker and the penalised Lightscameraction almost certain to be at the sharp end.
Evans, whose hot spell has thrust him into the early race for the trainers’ title, also saddles the useful Dougan who is well worth a crack at a race like this. However, he has 10lb to find with his smart stable companion and has produced his best form over 6f.
The dark horse could be the lightly raced Doc Sportello, who defied a step up from claiming company and a 12lb rise to chase home the well-handicapped Tatlisu over 6f at Newcastle last week. He won over a demanding 5f in Ireland and could find the necessary improvement to make his presence felt.
EASTERBY CAN LAND VALUABLE HANDICAP WITH QAFFAAL
The improving QAFFAAL may well have won a hot mile race at Lingfield Park on New Year’s Eve had he not endured such a difficult trip but compensation awaits in the £45,000 added Sunbets.co.uk Handicap over 7f at Newcastle on Thursday (4.30).
Mick Easterby’s six-year-old has been a revelation on the All-Weather this winter, winning a 1m handicap off a mark of just 69 before adding two more successes at Chelmsford City.
Since that opening success he has proven there is more to come despite climbing a further 18lb up the handicap, getting within an ace of denying the potentially smart Chester Street at the Essex track before going close again at Lingfield despite having to challenge wide off the home turn.
Qaffaal shouldn’t mind the drop back in distance. He has won over 7f and travelled strongly enough to hit the front a furlong out when landing that 1m handicap at the North East track in September.
Easterby also has strong claims with the revilatised Holiday Magic, who toyed with the opposition on the Southwell Fibresand last time and promises to post another prominent effort under a 6lb penalty. The front-running ex-Godolphin grey is 2lb well in according to his revised mark, which kicks in this weekend, but Qaffaal may have a bit more to offer on these terms.
Another key contender is the in-form Steel Train, who is well suited by this stiff track but needs a career best to defy a lofty mark of 100 in a better race than the one he won last time. His trainer David O’Meara is in tremendous form, sweeping to the top of the trainers’ championship at the weekend with a notable Lingfield double.
Top weight Realize turns out again just five days after being mugged by O’Meara’s Alfred Hutchinson in a conditions race and might just find it hard to give weight away to some improving rivals back in a handicap. Also interesting is Kevin Ryan’s imposing chestnut Flaming Spear, who finally got back on track in a 1m Newcastle handicap and may have more to offer despite a 5lb rise.
SCENERY LOOKS A NATURAL IN STAYING FEATURE
Saeed Bin Suroor’s filly NATURAL SCENERY is worth another chance in the Betway Handicap (3.30) over 1m4f at Newcastle on Thursday.
This daughter of Dubawi looked exciting when smashing the track record for this trip at Wolverhampton in October and had no trouble following up over a shorter distance at Lingfield next time.
However, she was trapped wide for much of the race when failing to justify favouritism in a 1m4f handicap back at the Surrey track on New Year’s Eve but shouldn’t encounter such problems on this fair track.
Left on the same mark of 91, Natural Scenery can run down the admirable pacesetter Watersmeet, who is sure to make a fist of it from the front in the hands of Joe Fanning. However, Mark Johnston’s gallant grey needs a personal best to give 16lb and a beating to Godolphin’s useful filly and might just prove a shade vulnerable in the finish.
Barye, who was unsuited by the slow early pace behind Watersmeet at Dunstall Park and when staying on to be second over 1m4f at Lingfield last time, should appreciate the stiff nature of this track and it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see him clawing his way into contention on the run for home.
NEWCASTLE THURSDAY SELECTIONS
3.30 NATURAL SCENERY
5.00 GRACIOUS JOHN (Nap)