WISSAHICKON ON BRINK OF HISTORIC VICTORY
WISSAHICKON will be sent off at cramped odds in his quest to become the highest rated winner in the 21-year history of Saturday’s Group 3 Betway Winter Derby at Lingfield Park on Saturday (3.15).
John Gosden’s star, who boasts an official mark of 117, is officially 4lb better than the race’s previous top-rated winner Premio Loco (2012).
Tryster and Convey, two celebrated champions who completed Winter Derby and Easter Classic doubles in recent seasons, were rated 5lb and 6lb below him respectively.
Wissahickon has already established himself as the best 10f horse on the circuit this season with victories in the Listed Quebec Stakes and the Listed Winter Derby Trial over the same course and distance.
The Winter Derby, like this month’s Trial, a Fast Track Qualifier for the £200,000 Easter Classic, poses the son of Tapit his sternest test so far but it’s difficult to build any kind of case against him consolidating his dominance.
Champion jockey Luke Morris, who has twice finished behind Wissahickon this season on Mick Appleby’s Listed winner Big Country, sums up his dominance. “He’s a very classy horse who will be very tough to beat, no matter how tactical you try and make it. My fellow would have been the one they’d all have to beat in an ordinary year but this horse is exceptional.”
At such a prohibitive price, Wissahickon is clearly one to sit back and admire, rather than invest in, and for each-way purposes it’s a pity that only six rivals stand their ground against him with good place prize money and valuable black type up for grabs.
Let’s examine the merits of Wissahickon’s opposition in the highest ranked race of All-Weather Championships Season 6.
In an ordinary year, champion trainer Mick Appleby’s imposing performer would have probably won at least one Listed race over Lingfield’s Winter Derby trip. He finished second to Master The World in the Churchill Stakes in November, and filled the same spot behind his nemesis Wissahickon in both the Quebec Stakes and the Winter Derby Trial.
It’s hard to see how Big Country can turn the tables on Gosden’s ace with 8lb to find on the book, but he may be good enough to avenge his defeat by Master The World on 3lb better terms. He is sure to run his race but another second place looks the best he can achieve.
Charlie Fellowes’s representative couldn’t land a serious blow behind Wissahickon, Big Country and Court House in the Winter Derby Trial over this course and distance last time but ran as well as could have been expected under such difficult terms. He was raised 7lb for finishing fourth but a bigger rating isn’t likely to help him reduce a five-length deficit.
Like Big Country, John Gosden’s colt would be a legitimate contender in an ordinary year and ran up to his mark of 105 in the Winter Derby Trial, when he finished two and three-quarter lengths behind Appleby’s runner in third. He made the running that day and should acquit himself well, but given that this trip is on the sharp side for him, he will probably be sent on to at least ensure another even gallop for stable mate Wissahickon.
Jamie Osborne’s seven-year-old entire has produced his best form at around 1m this winter, going close in the Listed Hyde Stakes at Kempton Park in November and winning a hot Conditions race at Wolverhampton earlier this month. He does stay this trip, however, and won his maiden around Lingfield for William Haggas. With a rating of 107, Hathal remains unexposed on synthetics and has the class to make an impact at rewarding odds. Hathal runs instead of high-profile stable mate Toast Of New York and looks primed to emerge with a great deal of credit.
David Elsworth has given his reigning champion a long holiday in readiness for this attempt at back-to-back victories and has every right to expect another bold show. He swooped late to collar subsequent Easter Classic winner Victory Bond 12 months ago and signed off in November with his second consecutive win in the Listed Churchill Stakes over the same course and distance. Being produced late off a strong gallop is the key to this eight-year-old who should be doing his best work deep inside the final furlong. Reeling in Wissahickon under such unfavourable terms is a daunting task but he has better credentials than most to capitalise if the favourite fails to run his race.
Twelve times a winner on the All-Weather, this admirable eight-year-old has enjoyed another fine winter campaign and deserves to take his chance after finishing only two lengths behind Victory Bond in last season’s Easter Classic. This season he has added a couple of decent handicaps to his CV, including one over course and distance last month, and is a true credit to trainer Stuart Williams and connections. Pactolus does have more tactical speed than some of his better fancied rivals but getting in the money here would surely exceed all expectations.
Frankie Dettori simply toyed with the opposition when coming from off the place to win the Listed Winter Derby Trial over course and distance. The fact the four-year-old wasn’t ideally placed when the tempo of that race lifted proved that he is tactically versatile - a quality that will stand him in good stead if this race becomes messy.
His temperament has threatened to compromise him in the past but the chestnut seems to be settling better with experience. This is his opportunity to confirm himself an All-Weather great and, going forward, a genuine Pattern performer - possibly Stateside.
Verdict: WISSAHICKON will have to seriously under-performer or find all sorts of trouble to be beaten by admirable, but inferior rivals. Last year’s winner Master The World has been under-estimated too many times but has the ability and track craft to make a race of it as long as the tempo is strong enough. Big Country will be there to be shot at on the turn for home but can fight it out for the minors with Master The World and Jamie Osborne’s classy Hathal.
MORRIS SET FOR ENCORE IN LISTED HEVER STAKES
ENCORE D’OR looked as good as every when winning a Fast-Track Qualifier at Newcastle last month and can supplement that success in the Listed Betway Hever Sprint Stakes at Lingfield Park on Saturday (2.05).
Robert Cowell’s team were delighted with his performance over the same 5f at Gosforth Park - his first start since finishing second in a Group 3 at Dundalk in October.
A big horse, he is entitled to sharpen up for that and Luke Morris keeps the ride on the race’s top-rated contender who was a close second in the race 12 months ago. He was burdened with a 3lb penalty for a Listed win at Doncaster in last year’s renewal, when he just failed to peg back Gracious John.
David Evans’s sprinter hasn’t been at his best in handicap company this winter and has 7lb to find with Encore D’Or if he is to confirm the form back in stakes company.
Archie Watson runs both Gorgeous Noora and last year’s 3YO Champion Corinthia Knight, but the former offers the best credentials. She was no match for Sprint Final favourite Kachy in the 6f Cleves Stakes last time but will be suited by the drop back to the minimum trip and has the benefit of a 5lb sex allowance.
HANNON TOP WEIGHT TO ENHANCE GOOD FRIDAY CREDENTIALS
Richard Hannon’s OH THIS IS US must give weight to all his rivals in the Follow Sun Racing On Twitter Handicap at Lingfield Park on Saturday (3.50), but I expect his class to prevail.
He ran well in defeat behind Winter Derby contender Hathal in conditions company at Wolverhampton last time on his return to the All-Weather, having finished a close second in a Group 2 on turf in France in October.
With two more runs required to qualify for the £150,000 Mile Final, this handicap presents itself as an ideal stepping stone with the Listed Lady Wulfruna Stakes at Wolverhampton next month another logical assignment.
Arcanada, a confirmed trailblazer who didn’t give his true running behind Oh This Is Us at Dunstall Park, is at his best around Lingfield and should at least give Hannon’s runner a perfect tow into the race.
LINGFIELD PARK (SATURDAY)
2.05 ENCORE D’OR
3.15 WISSAHICKON (NB MASTER THE WORLD)
3.50 OH THIS IS US (NAP)