Yorkshire trainer Karl Burke is hoping for “divine” intervention at this year’s St Leger Festival at Doncaster – 12 months after his star filly Laurens exploded into the big time by winning the Group 2 May Hill Stakes.
Burke, who talks to Simon Mapletoft, plans to run Cheveley Park’s exciting daughter of Dutch Art DIVINITY in next Thursday’s renewal following impressive wins in novice company at Nottingham and Thirsk.
“She’s a progressive filly who deserves to take her chance,” he says. “We’re throwing her in at the deep end really but she’s definitely useful and won’t be disgraced.
“She’s nothing like Laurens, who was much bigger even at that stage. There’s nothing flashy about her. In fact, she’s workmanlike but goes about her job very effectively. She’s answered every question so far.”
Like her illustrious stable companion, Divinity has a stout pedigree. Her dam Elysian, a daughter of Galileo, won over a mile and a half and Divinity has finished strongly to win both her starts at around a mile.
By contrast, LAURENS came to last year’s May Hill with Pattern form already in the bank. She had finished an encouraging second in a Group race in France a month earlier on only her second career start but was stepping up to a mile for this first time.
Owner John Dance’s pride and joy followed that up with a Group 1 success in the Fillies’ Mile, of course, before finishing second in the Guineas en route to back-to-back victories at the highest level in France, including the French Oaks, the Prix de Diane.
After failing to see out a mile and a half in the Yorkshire version last month, Laurens will drop back in trip in pursuit of her fourth Group 1 prize, the Matron Stakes back at a mile at Leopardstown on Irish Champions Weekend.
“I couldn’t be happier with her,” says the Leyburn trainer. “She’s come out of York in great shape and we’re looking forward to dropping back to a mile. I was 90 per cent sure she’d stay at York, and PJ (McDonald) was adamant, but she proved us wrong. She travelled well to a point but simply didn’t get home.”
Laurens has been skillfully handled in all her eight career starts by McDonald, but her regular partner will have to watch from the sidelines next weekend following a freak accident at Newcastle. He will be replaced by Danny Tudhope.
“PJ is absolutely gutted as you can imagine but Danny’s a top class rider and we’re delighted to secure his services. He’ll have a sit on her before the big day just to help put the finishing touches to her preparation.”
Divinity’s immediate future will depend on her performance on Town Moor but her owners will no doubt be keen to try and emulate Laurens’s success in the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket if she passes the test with flying colours.
Burke endured a near miss in last year’s Group 2 Flying Childers Stakes with his sharp colt HAVANA GREY, who will accompany Laurens across the Irish Sea to run in the Group 1 Flying Five. Representing the Spigot Lodge stable in the juvenile dash this time will be precocious filly LITTLE KIM, who won a Group 3 at Deauville in July after performing creditably in the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot.
“She’s a useful filly who hails from a very fast family so more Black Type at Group 2 level would boost her paddock value for her owners Nick Bradley Racing,” adds Burke.
His juvenile division also boasts York winner COMMANDING OFFICER, who has two options at Doncaster. “He’s in the Group 2 Champagne Stakes but I’m not sure we want to take on John Gosden’s Too Darn Hot at this stage of his development,” he adds.
“He goes to Doncaster on an upward curve and will relish stepping up to a mile next year. Danny Tudhope rides him for owners Clipper Logistics and loves the horse. He has tons of scope but I don’t want to over-face him.”
The alternative is the Listed Flying Scotsman Stakes over the same seven furlongs, won last year by Guineas runner-up Tip Two Win. “We’re not short of options for him. He’s also in the big Tattersalls sales race at The Curragh over six and a half furlongs. It’s a slight drop back in trip but it’s a fairly stiff track.”
Another contender for the Flying Scotsman is SWISSTERIOUS, who took a course and distance novice stakes in July before emerging with some credit in defeat in the Group 3 Acomb Stakes at York. “He’s a stuffy colt who was a bit keen and fresh at York. I may have undercooked him if I’m honest but he’ll head to Doncaster in good form and also has a six-furlong conditions race and a seven-furlong nursery as other options.”
Race replay: Swissterious was a hugely impressive winner at Doncaster in July.
Burke is hoping the ease in grade and a step up in trip will provoke a response from last year’s Prix Morny winner UNFORTUNATELY, who could line up in the Group 2 Park Stakes over the straight seven furlongs.
Another Cheveley Park-owned performer, he was far from disgraced in mid-division in the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot but couldn’t get competitive in the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville last month.
“It’s been a tough year for him, being a three-year-old sprinter, and he simply hasn’t had his ground,” explains Burke. “He’s a much better horse with some cut and definitely shows me at home that he retains all his ability. There are two or three options left for him this year and whilst I hope the step up in trip will suit him at Doncaster he would be just as much at home on soft or heavy ground back over six.”
The Carrie Red Fillies’ Nursery is on the agenda for 72-rated CHAINS OF LOVE, who has run respectably in two novice races since making a winning debut at York in June. “She won a seller there but she’s better than that,” he adds. “She won over six and ran OK over seven at Doncaster so the intermediate trip should be perfect for her.”
Race replay: Chains Of Love finishes 4th in a Fillies' Novice Auction at Windsor.
Burke won that nursery last year with ELLTHEA, who will contest the Group 3 Sceptre Stakes. She won at that level in Ireland last year but won’t be burdened by a penalty on Town Moor. “She’s a filly who hasn’t run since June as she tends to come in season a lot. Things seem to have calmed down with her now so we’re looking forward to kicking off an autumn campaign at Doncaster. It was soft when she won her Group race at Naas last September so any rain would improve her chances.”
With such a strong team to go to war with, it’s clear that a couple of notable scalps at Doncaster could again be on the cards for Burke and his team before they turn their attention to the prospect of a Group 1 double in Ireland with Laurens and sprint star Havana Grey.