Richard Hannon’s TEMPLE OF HEAVEN could become the highest rated finalist in a category that has surprisingly lacked strength in depth this season. The third of four Fast-Track Qualifiers at Kempton Park on Monday 20th January attracted only four runners, the highest of them rated 95.
Temple Of Heaven made a favourable impression in the first qualifier on the opening day of the season at Newcastle in October, quickening clear of favourite Desert Safari to win easing down in first-time blinkers under Sean Levey.
He was returning from a four-month break after suffering his only defeat so far in the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot when he failed to cope with soft ground. He won on a sounder surface at Nottingham and Newbury in the spring and, being by Iffraaj, should be effective at 7f in due course.
The question he must answer concerns his ability to cope with the sharp 6f around Lingfield Park on Finals Day but he certainly isn’t short of gears. He clocked a better time at Newcastle than his 91-rated stable mate did in a 4yo-plus handicap earlier that day and has since been gelded.
Maystar will also turn up at Easter with strong credentials. He also had an appointment with the vet before returning to dominate a Fast-Track Qualifier at Wolverhampton in early December for the exemplary Hollie Doyle, and proved that was no fluke by taking a valuable prize on turf out in Qatar 13 days later.
Maystar’s trainer Archie Watson knows what it takes to win the 3YO crown, having achieved the feat with Corinthia Knight in 2018.
Kondratiev Wave paid Maystar a compliment when he dug deep for Hollie Doyle in Kempton Park’s qualifier on 20th January, doing just enough to make-all. Tony Carroll’s scopey, ex-Irish sprinter has progressed since finishing behind Watson’s gelding at Wolverhampton and, despite racing lazily, has the potential to be a better horse than his winning rating of 87 suggests.
The fourth and final qualifier in this category is the Listed Spring Cup over 7f at Lingfield on 29th February – a prize that will surely be on Temple Of Heaven’s agenda.
Fast-Track Qualifier Winners: Temple Of Heaven (Conditions Stakes, Newcastle); Maystar (Conditions Stakes, Wolverhampton); Kondratiev Wave (Conditions Stakes, Kempton Park).
Remaining Fast Track Qualifier: 29th February, Listed Spring Cup (7f) at Lingfield Park.
FILLIES & MARES
Roger Varian won the Distaff Championship in 2017 with Realtra and will have every chance of repeating the feat with Wolverhampton winner INVITATIONAL. She didn’t have to dig too deep to hold that decent yardstick Rock On Baileys in a 7f qualifier early in the New Year. Jack Mitchell had her well placed to react in a slowly run race and she had no trouble conceding a 3lb penalty for her Listed win in testing ground in France last year.
This filly is clearly on the upgrade but it’s worth pointing out that while she has struggled on both starts on the Lingfield Polytrack, she probably didn’t see out 1m in a fillies’ handicap there in August when she finished just behind John Gosden’s Scentasia.
The daughter of Cape Cross is also heading to Finals Day after taking the Listed Fleur De Lys Stakes over 1m at the Surrey at the end of October – the first Fast Track heat in the category – and following up with another Listed success in the re-scheduled Gillies Fillies’ Stakes over 1m2f at Lingfield the following month.
However, there must be a fear that she may suffer the same fate as her owner Sheikh Juma Dalmook Al Maktoum’s smart mare Muffri’Ha, who won the same qualifier only to be undone by the drop back to 7f in the 2017 Final.
Ireland could be represented by the seven-year-old Surrounding, who was too classy for a decent field in a 1m Listed qualifier at Dundalk on 1st November. She was entitled to win that off a top rating of 105, even under a penalty, but ran well below expectations in a Group 2 in Meydan on 16th January, again over 1m. The drop back to 7f at Lingfield shouldn’t inconvenience Mick Halford’s strong travelling mare.
Fast-Track Qualifier Winners: Scentasia (Listed Fleur De Lys Stakes, Lingfield Park); Surrounding (Conditions Race, Dundalk).
Remaining Fast Track Qualifier: 13th February, Conditions Stakes (1m) at Chelmsford City.
Hugo Palmer has kept SET PIECE under wraps since his last-gasp victory in a Fast-Track Qualifier at Kempton Park in November, the Listed Hyde Stakes over 1m. He had lost his way after finishing third in last year’s Craven Stakes but the combination of wind surgery and a gelding operation helped him get his career firmly back on track.
He travelled smoothly before quickening up under James Doyle to reel in the heavily backed leader Khuzaam in the final stride and remains unbeaten on the All-Weather in three starts.
Elevated 11lb to a mark of 110, this four-year-old remains open to considerable improvement and may have to be to get the better of a much older rival who also boasts a perfect three from three on sand.
Richard Fahey’s gelding Another Touch had never run on synthetics until winning at Chelmsford City at the end of November but has added further 1m victories to his CV at Lingfield and Newcastle.
Now seven, Another Touch toyed with a decent field in a Fast-Track Qualifier at Gosforth Park on 8th January. He stays further, as he proved when finishing a solid fourth in last season’s John Smith’s Cup over the extended 1m2f at York, but has already demonstrated that he possesses the cruising speed and the turn of foot to be highly effective at his Good Friday destination, too.
Tony Carroll has Finals Day aspirations for his Godolphin cast-off Silent Attack, who hung tough to win a 1m handicap at Lingfield off 99 in mid-January for Ben Curtis – a performance that improved his rating by a useful 3lb.
Curtis believes a step up to 1m will benefit James Tate’s smart grey Power Link, who could be a candidate for the Listed Lady Wulfruna Stakes over 7f at Wolverhampton in March.
Fast-Track Qualifier Winners: Set Piece (Listed Hyde Stakes, Kempton Park); Another Touch (Conditions Stakes, Newcastle).
Remaining Fast Track Qualifiers: 15th February, Listed Race (1m) at Cagnes-Sur-Mer; 7th March, Listed Lady Wulfruna Stakes (7f) at Wolverhampton.
The outcome of this category could hinge on the eagerly-anticipated return to the track of reigning champion KACHY, who missed his intended re-appearance at Wolverhampton on Boxing Day.
Tom Dascombe plans to run him in the Listed Cleves Stakes on 1st February – a Fast-Track Qualifier for the £150,000 Final. The pressure is on for the popular seven-year-old, though, as he must secure an unprecedented third consecutive win in the race to guarantee his place on Finals Day.
Kachy hasn’t been seen in public since finishing a gallant third in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot back in June, but his enthusiastic owner Dave Lowe insists his star is just as potent as ever. To make Finals Day, he will have to be.
In his absence, the most impressive performance in this category belongs to Julie Camacho’s Judicial, who posted a remarkable display to win the 6f Listed Golden Rose Stakes at Lingfield in November. He had a penalty and a wide draw to overcome that day, but gunned down every one of his rivals with a blistering turn of foot to claim his place in the Final.
Connections have indicated he will go straight there without another run, but it would be some spectacle were he to take on Kachy in the Cleves.
It’s worth noting that while Judicial posted striking closing fractions of 11.21, 11.10 and 11.07 secs in the Golden Rose, Kachy broke 11 secs for three consecutive furlongs when blasting to victory in record time in last season’s Cleves over the same course and distance – a performance that arguably stands up as the best of all-time on the All-Weather stopwatch.
Newcastle Fast-Track winner Good Effort adds genuine substance to this Final, which has the potential to be the best of the six. Ismail Mohammed’s entire benefitted from a confident front-running ride in the 5f feature by Ben Curtis and could prove even more effective back over 6f come Good Friday.
He destroyed a decent field in a 6.5f conditions race on Polytrack in Deauville before Christmas and Curtis insists he is well enough balanced and light enough on his feet to cope with Lingfield’s tight turns and downhill run into the home stretch.
Robert Cowell knows how to handle good sprinters and his progressive four-year-old Reeves could yet be a player. He has already rattled up a four-timer and although three of his wins have come over 7f, he showed a smart gear change to win a slowly run 6f handicap at Wolverhampton in mid-December.
That form has been franked by the second, Desert Doctor, who was a good runner-up in a valuable dirt handicap in Meydan on 16th January and Ed Walker’s gelding could yet play a part in the Sprint Final himself. Reeves will need to win again to make the cut but could easily blossom into a three-digit performer come April.
Fast-Track Qualifier Winners: Judicial (Listed Golden Rose Stakes, Lingfield); Good Effort (Conditions Stakes, Newcastle).
Remaining Fast Track Qualifiers: 1st February, Listed Cleves Stakes (6f) at Lingfield Park; 3rd March, Listed Prix Anabaa (6f) at Chantilly.
No horse has won this championship twice but French raider FUNNY KID could easily claim that accolade. He came back from a short break to run the smart Raymond Tusk to half a length in a Fast-Track Qualifier at Newcastle in December, despite conceding a penalty, and got caught too far out of his ground in a steadily run qualifier at Wolverhampton on 13th January.
Top jockey Maxime Guyon, who won the Final on him in 2018, would have almost certainly ridden that race differently if he had the chance, but the seven-year-old needs only one more run to qualify for another crack at the £150,000 prize and is clearly still as good as ever.
Raymond Tusk had run in the Melbourne Cup only 39 days before taking that Newcastle qualifier but looked in rude health in the paddock. However, he couldn’t run anywhere near his best at Dunstall Park, when his busy campaign appeared to take its toll. He will probably be freshened up for the Final and shouldn’t be written off.
Both could clash in another re-match in the 3,000-metre handicap at the Saudi Cup at the end of February.
Alan King’s dual-purpose performer Rainbow Dreamer beat both Funny Kid and Raymond Tusk at Wolverhampton, thanks to a clever tactical ride by Hollie Doyle who was always well placed to capitalise once the latter capitulated.
He has been in the form of his life this winter, rattling up a hat-trick, but whether he will get away from his rivals quite so easily in the Final is debatable.
Another possible contender is Hugo Palmer’s Paths Of Glory, who has performed to a high level in 1m4f handicaps this winter but gives the distinct impression he will find even more improvement over further. On a mark of 97, he is on the cusp of making the grade for the Final and needs only one more run to qualify. Don’t be surprised to see him among the acceptors for the remaining qualifiers at Kempton and Chelmsford.
Fast-Track Qualifier Winners: Raymond Tusk (Conditions Stakes, Newcastle); Rainbow Dreamer (Conditions Stakes, Wolverhampton).
Remaining Fast Track Qualifiers: 16th February, Conditions Stakes (2m) at Kempton Park; 7th March, Conditions Stakes (2m) at Chelmsford City.
The premier category has lacked its usual depth this season, possibly due to John Gosden’s dominance. His Crossed Baton faced only five rivals to win the Listed Churchill Stakes in November, a Fast-Track Qualifier, with only gallant veteran Pactolus competing off a mark above 100.
Even in a more competitive year, the latter would boast the perfect profile for the Winter Derby and the £200,000 Easter Classic. He has won four of his five races on synthetics and proved in the Quebec that despite his big frame he has the athleticism to cope with the idiosyncrasies of the Final venue.
With a revised mark of 111, he sets a clear standard at this stage though does have an entry at the $20 million Saudi Cup at the end of February.
Crossed Baton remains unbeaten on the All-Weather in two starts but lacks the potential of his stable companion – a comment that also applies to Court House who finished three and a half lengths behind Dubai Warrior in the Quebec. It’s a case of déjà vu for the five-year-old, who had to play a supporting role to the stable’s Wissahickon in last season’s Winter Derby Trial and Winter Derby proper.
Gosden has another ace up his sleeve in Global Giant, whose debut for the Clarehaven powerhouse at Wolverhampton on 6th January was positively stunning. A Listed winner at Dundalk for Ed Dunlop, he swept past three smart rivals in a 9.5f conditions stakes to record stopwatch figures of 11.64, 10.95 and 11.15 secs for the final three furlongs.
With that kind of natural speed, he could prove a threat to all – Dubai Warrior included – if he shows up for the three-remaining big 10f races at Lingfield. Like his in-mate, he, too, could be heading out to Saudi Arabia in the meantime.
Dalgarno sprung a surprise when he won a Listed Fast-Track Qualifier over 9.5f at Deauville in November but despite posting a career-best in the Quebec, Jane Chapple-Hyam’s seven-year-old was no match for Dubai Warrior.
Fast-Track Qualifier Winners: Crossed Baton (Listed Churchill Stakes, Lingfield); Dalgarno (Listed Prix Lyphard, Deauville).
Remaining Fast Track Qualifiers: 1st February, Listed Winter Derby Trial (1m2f) at Lingfield Park; 22nd February, Group 3 Winter Derby (1m2f) at Lingfield Park.
As long as he avoids injury or a lengthy suspension, BEN CURTIS looks destined to claim his first All-Weather Jockeys’ Championship to add to the Champion Apprentice title he shared in Ireland with Joseph O’Brien and Gary Carroll almost a decade ago.
The Thirsk-based rider coaxed home his first 59 winners at a remarkable strike rate of 22%, opening up a gap of over 20 winners from former title holder Luke Morris and the upwardly mobile Hollie Doyle.
She has already enjoyed a memorable winter, becoming only the third female rider to reach 100 winners in a calendar year this season, and then quickly passing Josephine Gordon’s record total of winners. Doyle has also become the queen of the Fast Tracks, winning qualifiers on Maystar, Rainbow Dreamer and Kondratiev Wave inside six prolific weeks.
With the promising Angus Villiers learning the clock in The States, the race for the apprentice title is wide open but Grace McEntee, who rides mainly for her trainer-father Phil, has made a big impression with her unflustered and stylish approach and deserves to attract even more outside support.
Tony Carroll’s apprentice Elisha Whittington has enjoyed a new year purple patch, while George Rooke and Dylan Hogan have also been consistently rewarding trainers for making full use of their respective claims.
MICK APPLEBY has been a dominant force in the Championships since their inception and has built up a healthy break on his pursuers at the half-way stage. The Oakham handler remains a man to follow on the Southwell Fibresand, in particular, and has eased clear of John Gosden over a productive Christmas and New Year period.
Tony Carroll, who enjoyed his best ever year in 2019, has begun the New Year in prolific form, too, and struck one his most notable victories when Kondratiev Wave won a Fast-Track Qualifier at Kempton Park.
Another former jockey, three-times champion Richard Hughes, has produced some impressive statistics on the sand, too, securing his place in the top 10 numerically with a healthy strike rate of 23 per cent. In fact, Hughes’ runners have returned a level stakes profit of £43.
Tony Carroll also has two mid-season contenders for the winning-most horse prize. Both Silverturnstogold and Foresee posted four victories – the former without defeat.
Another progressive horse with four consecutive wins to his name is Robert Cowell’s Reeves, while Gary Moore has worked wonders with Agent Of Fortune who won four of her first six starts for the Brighton trainer, albeit at a lower level.