Surfing The Sand

A high-quality field of stayers heads to Newcastle on Saturday in a bid to qualify for the Marathon Final on Good Friday. Our All-Weather expert Simon Mapletoft previews the big race and reveals fancies for the weekend’s best handicaps at Gosforth Park and Wolverhampton.

  • Thursday 10 December
  • Blog
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RAYMOND TUSK has the credentials to land Newcastle’s Fast-Track Qualifier on Saturday for the second year in succession.  

Victory in the Betway Conditions Stakes (2.20) over the extended 2m will guarantee Richard Hannon’s staying star a place in the Marathon Final at Lingfield Park on Good Friday.  

The five-year-old entire, who will be ridden by the in-form Rossa Ryan, has been running himself back into form following a lengthy injury set-back and looks ready to build on his latest outing on the Southwell Fibresand last month.  

He was no match for the prolific Johnny Drama that day, but was always likely to find the 1m4f an inadequate test of stamina. What’s more, the winner went on to complete a four-timer in the Listed Wild Flower Stakes over that trip at Kempton Park.  

A year ago, Raymond Tusk got the better of 2018 Marathon champion Funny Kid and the smart Mildenberger and was found to have sustained a hairline fracture of a cannon bone after disappointing in another Fast-Track Qualifier at Wolverhampton in January.  

While Raymond Tusk’s official rating has fallen 9lb to 104, Mark Johnston’s joint-top rated Mildenberger (111) has improved his by 3lb so is entitled to be in the mix again off level weights.  

He progressed to win a Fast-Track Qualifier at Chelmsford in March and took his form to a new level over course and distance in June when getting within half a length of illustrious stable mate Nayef Road in the Group 3 Sagaro Stakes.  

That represents the best recent All-Weather form in the race, but this summer’s Northumberland Plate over the same trip at Newcastle also offers some valuable clues.  

Roger Varian’s imposing front-runner Australis had Rainbow Dancer and Carnwennan behind when collared only by Caravan Of Hope in the Pitmen’s Derby but hasn’t progressed as well as one might have expected and has plenty to find at the weights if he is to repel his pursuers.  

To give you some perspective, Australis has 17lb to find with Mildenberger and Rainbow Dancer and is 10lb worse off with my selection Raymond Tusk.  

He also has a score to settle with Heath Main’s Island Brave, who beat him over 2m at Ascot in August and ran well considering he was held up off a modest gallop at Kempton last time. He has course form, too, having taken a 12.5f handicap off another of Saturday’s contenders Stargazer in the stewards’ room in 2018.  

Philip Kirby’s dual course and distance winner has 5lb in hand of Island Brave on official figures but travelled in snatches in handicap company at Newcastle last month and needs to improve markedly on that as he steps back up to a more suitable trip.  

Alan King, who brings Rainbow Dancer back from a lay-off, also saddles the remarkable veteran Who Dares Wins, who is no stranger to success at this track having won last year’s Northumberland Plate.  

This old favourite has struggled somewhat since winning at Royal Ascot in the summer, including when pulled up in Grade 3 company over hurdles last month, but can be relied upon to give a good account of himself in those exertions haven’t left their mark.  


Michael Wigham’s SANAADH looked in need of his re-appearance run at Chelmsford City but can leave that form well behind in the 7f Bombardier British Hopped Amber Beer Handicap (4.30) at Newcastle on Saturday.  

He won a similar race over course and distance in February when Joe Fanning produced him off a strong pace to beat subsequent Group 1 winner Glen Shiel and the re-opposing Keyser Soze.  

Just 2lb higher than he was that day, Sanaadh is significantly better off with The Keyser and should have the race run to suit with so many prominent runners in opposition.  

The danger could be Ralph Beckett’s five-year-old Diocles Of Rome, who comes into the race on the back of a strong effort in another competitive handicap and receives a massive 24lb from Richard Spencer’s top weight.  

Laura Pearson, who claims 7lb and rides for Beckett for the first time, will effectively be weighing out at just 7st 12lb on this dual All-Weather winner, who kept on grittily over 7f at Kempton Park last time.  

On that evidence, he is well worth another try on this more demanding track off just a 1lb higher mark despite pulling his chance away in a similar race over course and distance in the summer of 2019.  


Options will be open for Tom Dascombe’s MISTY GREY if he can win the Betway Handicap (7.15) at Wolverhampton on Saturday.  

He justified strong market support to win a 7f handicap at Dunstall Park last time on his first start since leaving Mark Johnston and can build on that despite a 5lb rise in the ratings.  

The strong travelling three-year-old, who is nicely drawn in stall five, remains well treated on his best form and won’t mind the drop back to 6f.  

Victory on Saturday off his revised mark of 95 will put him in the frame for a tilt at the Sprint Championship while the Listed Lady Wulfruna Stakes over 7f at Wolverhampton in March won’t have escaped the attention of connections.  

William Jarvis’s One Night Stand overcame a similarly wide draw to win with a bit in hand over course and distance last time and shouldn’t be under-estimated despite taking an extra 5lb into a better grade.


Western Alliance  

Clive Cox’s colt made a highly encouraging debut in a novice over 8.5f at Wolverhampton last week, finishing well clear of the rest when third to market leaders Emperor Spirit and Inigo Jones. This son of Kingman – a half-brother to multiple Group 3 winner Rose Of Kildare - was given a sympathetic introduction by Danny Tudhope and can win something similar in the coming weeks.  

Charles Le Brun

Watch out for Johnny Portman’s gelding if he stands his ground at Kempton Park on Monday evening. He finished strongly over 5f on his All-Weather debut at Southwell last week despite getting slightly out-paced mid-race, and looks to have been found a strong opportunity stepping up to 6f on the Polytrack off the same mark (51).  

Juan Les Pins

This gelding was bought out of Ed Walker’s yard for 60,000 gns at the Horses in Training Sales and found only previous winner Astro Jakk a nose too good in a 6f handicap at Newcastle on his debut for Ed Dunlop last week. A 2lb rise for that display shouldn’t prove prohibitive so expect to see him supplement his previous two All-Weather wins at Kempton Park.  

Precision Storm

Mark Loughnane can rightly consider his three-year-old an unlucky loser at Wolverhampton on Monday. Held up for a customary late run, he was denied a clear passage two furlongs out but only just failed to reel in the winner over 9.5f. Successful over that course and distance three starts ago, he remains well treated following a 1lb rise and can gain compensation granted a smoother passage.  


Four-time Champion Trainer Mick Appleby has certainly found his stride in the past two weeks, saddling 10 winners at a strike rate of 20 per cent. Spring Romance’s win at Southwell on Tuesday saw him draw level with John Gosden at the top of the table with 19 winners. Just four behind them at the time of writing was Ralph Beckett, whose 15 winners were achieved at a remarkable strike rate of 42 per cent.  

Richard Kingscote remains my tip for a first jockeys’ championship. He headed into Thursday’s action at Chelmsford City with two favourites to look forward to and was only four behind leader James Doyle, who will be taking a Christmas break before heading out to Dubai.  

Meanwhile, Megan Nicholls, who rode out her claim last month, is the eyecatcher among the apprentice ranks with six winners at a strike rate of 32 per cent. What’s more, she is operating at a level stakes profit of over 99 points!  

If fortune favours the brave, then Tom Marquand deserves high praise for his enterprising tactics on Mick Appleby’s Zapper Cass in a 6f handicap at Wolverhampton last week. He stayed wide of the field from his high draw in stall 10 and, racing solo, was able to maintain what proved to be an unassailable lead on the 28-1 shot. Time will tell if Marquand’s tactical brilliance sets a trend among those riders drawn in the car park over Dunstall Park’s 6f.  

In the same colours, 21-yeare-old Fred Larson made his first ride a winning one for his boss Mick Appleby at Southwell on Tuesday. A graduate of Andrew Balding’s academy, he produced Thrave to land a 6f claimer in cheeky fashion and looks set to gain plenty more opportunities for the champion trainer as we move deeper into the season.  

There was also a first career success for young Will Humphrey who guided his mother’s Blue Whisper home at Wolverhampton in midweek under a cool hand ride. He is based in Newmarket with Simon and Ed Crisford.  

Finally, Victory Heights clinched his place in the 3YO Final on Good Friday with a last-gasp win in Wolverhampton’s Fast Track Qualifier last weekend for James Tate and PJ McDonald. However, don’t be surprised to see gallant runner-up Mighty Gurkha claim his place in the next qualifier at Kempton Park in January – the scene of his Group 3 Sirenia Stakes win in September.

Surfing The Sand

Newcastle 14:20, 12 December 2020

Newcastle 16:30, 12 December 2020

Wolverhampton 19:15, 12 December 2020

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