BIG COUNTRY OUT TO THWART GOSDEN STAR
WISSAHICKON will attempt to become the highest rated winner of the Listed Betway Winter Derby Trial at Lingfield Park on Saturday (2.55) - a Fast Track Qualifier for the £200,000 Easter Classic at the same track on Good Friday.
John Gosden’s colt, who has an official mark of 117, proved his aptitude for the Polytrack circuit when easing to victory in the Listed Quebec Stakes over course and distance before Christmas.
An impressive winner of the Cambridgeshire on his previous start, the four-year-old will be Frankie Dettori’s first domestic ride of the year as he sets out to enhance his position as ante-post favourite for the Winter Derby proper.
Wissahickon ticks every proverbial box but does have one potential flaw which could leave him vulnerable in a hot renewal - his temperament.
Robert Havlin, who rode him in the Quebec, tells me: “The key to this horse is to get him relaxed and into a nice rhythm. He can be very keen otherwise.”
Gosden himself described him as “a bit wild” after his Cambridgeshire romp so his behaviour in the preliminaries, and the way he acquits himself in the early part of the race, will be crucial to his prospects.
Whilst he is difficult to oppose, he will still need to bring his ‘A’ game to beat some quality opposition including Mick Appleby’s BIG COUNTRY, who was second to him in the Quebec and looks a value alternative to the short-priced favourite.
Big Country is 8lb inferior to Wissahickon on official figures but it’s worth noting that he enjoys an 8lb pull for a two and a half-length defeat. That’s because Gosden’s star no longer enjoys an age allowance and must shoulder a 3lb Listed penalty for his latest exploits, while Big Country finally sheds the penalty he carried in the Quebec for his Listed win on turf.
His part-owner Chris Dixon rightly points out that Big Country - also runner-up in the Listed Churchill Stakes over course and distance in November - is “as good an All-Weather horse as you’ll see. It’s a pity Wissahickon’s around but you can’t run away from one horse.”
A big, imposing type, Big Country did well to finish as close as he did in the Quebec, considering he negotiated the final bend so badly. Whilst Luke Morris’s mount can’t afford to lose vital ground off the home turn on Saturday, he has the credentials to capitalise if Wissahickon’s temperament compromises his undoubted talent.
Gosden, meanwhile, has an insurance policy in the shape of Court House, a progressive four-year-old who has form at the track. He won a match against Scarlet Dragon over 1m4f at Lingfield on 9th January and has the gears to cope with this drop in trip.
Smart enough to finish within a length of subsequent Belmont Stakes runner-up Gronkowski in Kempton’s Kentucky Derby Trial over 1m last March, he must improve again to make an impact but does give the impression he hasn’t reached his ceiling on a mark of 105.
Havlin, who rides him on Saturday, agrees. “He’s a smart horse in his own right and worked nicely with his lead horse on Wednesday morning. He has the speed for this trip and is already proven around Lingfield.”
French trainer Pia Brandt is no stranger to success here and the booking of top Lingfield jockey Adam Kirby for In The Lope shows she means business. This horse has experienced the track once before when he finished well from off the pace to be fifth in the 2017 Churchill Stakes.
The five-year-old won a decent handicap over this trip at Deauville in December and twice ran with credit in valuable races at last year’s Dubai Carnival.
Hopefully the pace will be even and generous, with Ian Williams’s Time To Study likely to go forward with Big Country. Like David Elsworth’s strapping 12f performer Dash Of Spice, who returns from a lengthy absence, this former Mark Johnston gelding has shown his best form on galloping tracks over further.
KACH ME IF YOU CAN!
Last year’s winner KACHY should be hard to peg back in the Listed Betway Cleves Stakes (1.45) at Lingfield Park on Saturday - another Fast Track Qualifier for Good Friday.
Tom Dascombe’s speedball couldn’t have been more impressive when he returned to action at Wolverhampton on Boxing Day following a wind operation, smashing the 6f track record.
The draw (8 of 9) could have been kinder but this trailblazer proved he has the gears to overcome a wide stall when scoring from gate 11 a year ago.
His only defeat in four starts on synthetics came in last season’s Sprint Final, when he was denied only by the late surge of French raider City Light.
Andrew Balding’s Stone Of Destiny could emerge as the main danger with Oisin Murphy - fresh from his success in Japan - a strong booking. I was impressed by his finishing effort in another qualifier over 5f at Newcastle last time on his first start since being gelded.
The four-year-old has 10lb to find with Kachy on these terms but was smart enough to be a close fourth in last summer’s Group 1 Commonwealth Cup and will be suited by this return to 6f.
Cenotaph has built an impressive All-Weather CV and lost little in defeat in a pair of conditions races at Kempton. He looks capable of making his presence felt from a good draw under Ryan Moore but needs to raise his game in the face of a much sharper test.
1.45 LINGFIELD, SATURDAY
2.55 LINGFIELD, SATURDAY
BIG COUNTRY (EW)
Andrew Balding’s lowly rated filly had hinted at better to come when staying on with purpose in a 1m4f classified event at Kempton and relished the step up to 1m6f on her handicap debut at Wolverhampton on Wednesday evening. She came to win her race under a well-judged ride by David Probert, only to be mugged by the late surge of Gary Moore’s more experienced favourite Clearance. Compensation awaits.
This son of Kodiac was returning from a break at Wolverhampton on Monday, having been gelded, and ran a race full of promise in an 8.5f handicap. Roger Charlton’s lightly campaigned three-year-old was also equipped with blinkers but blew the start badly, only to make significant headway. He may not be totally straightforward but showed enough to suggest he can win a handicap off a modest enough mark.
John Ryan’s gelding was smart enough to finish third in last season’s Group 3 Winter Derby but had been in the doldrums until running on nicely to be third of four in a warm handicap at Lingfield last weekend. It was his first try at 1m4f and on that evidence he is definitely worth another go at the distance. He has tumbled 20lb in the ratings since his 2018 exploits and looks ready to capitalise, possibly in a 0-85 handicap.
Tom Clover should be able to place this filly to win a small handicap following her luckless third run in a Fillies’ novice at Chelmsford City last week. She would have given the winner plenty to think about with a clearer run over 7f and has enough stamina on her page - her dam was a 9f winner - to appreciate a step up in trip.