A Second Step closer to Group 1 glory.

There is nothing more exhilarating than the thrill of having an early season Group winner so to win two within the space of 72 hours was just fantastic.  With Mizzou providing us with our first Group race of 2015 with a course record win in the Group 3 Longines Sagaro Stakes at Ascot, it was then Second Step who gave us the excitement of a second Group victory when landing the Group 2 Dunaden at Overbury Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket on 2000 Guineas day.  Second Step’s victory gave us more pleasure from a winner than we have had for several years.  Progressive as a three-year-old; his form really took off at the end of last year when given the opportunity to run at the Curragh where he won the Listed Finale Stakes. Seven months later, on another galloping track, Second Step took a giant leap forward under a patient yet confident ride by Andrea Atzeni to land a career best effort to date.  It is possible that last year’s Hardwicke winner, Telescope, was not quite at his best and went for home too early which subsequently allowed Second Step to run him down on the line.  However; analyse it as you will, we feel he did it impressively and showed us that he is more than up to this class.  Admittedly, ahead of the race, we would have happily settled for a close second, but even that would have announced Second Step as a major player in the best mile and a half races this year and we now feel more than justified in looking for a Group 1 race.  Succeeding in such a challenge would be yet another boost for owner/breeder Craig Bennett’s Merry Fox Stud having already bred 2014 Group 1 winners Cursory Glance and Charming Thought from the Merry Fox Stud mares Time Control and Annabelle’s Charm respectively.  Looking forward we have a couple of options for him, the most likely being the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, which amongst the Group 1 races at a mile and a half, is probably the least difficult to win from a historical perspective (Noble Mission nearly won it last year) and the Canadian International later in the year is another option. Woodbine is amongst the most galloping of the North American turf tracks and the ground is usually on the easy side as well – two factors which would play to his strengths.  The BHA handicapper has seen fit to raise his rating to 118, which means he is now officially the best horse in our yard.  Postponed might well have something to say about that, however, as he remains on course for the Tattersalls Gold Cup in Ireland later this month when, hopefully, the ground will have dried up.

24 hours after Second Step’s victory; Kleo nearly followed up when running a valiant race in the Group 2 Charm Spirit Dahlia Stakes.  One of our favourite fillies in the yard, we were in two minds whether to run her in this race or not.  However, with Pleasant Valley winning so well at Pontefract, we felt we had to take our chance and she nearly pulled off another upset.  Having raced prominently throughout, she then took up the lead with over a furlong to go only to be headed in the final strides. It is not often that a Greek bred makes the frame in a Group race so the aim now is to go and win one.  We don’t have a particular target in mind for her and, as we have Pleasant Valley pencilled in for the Nottinghamshire Oaks in early June, we will look elsewhere.  Although the ground was fast at Newmarket, she is also very effective with plenty of cut so it may be that she will travel to France at some point.

Jordan Princess also ran well on her reappearance at Goodwood and she will now go for the Pinnacle Stakes at Haydock next.  There wasn’t much pace in the race and, unfortunately, she got boxed in just when the race was beginning to take shape.  By the time Adam Kirby had managed to find a clear passage through there was little chance of her catching the leaders. In the circumstances, fourth place was more than satisfactory and she will leave that form behind next time.

Other horses that ran well last week were Saigon City and Comedy King.  As anyone who has read these news articles over the years will know, Saigon City is a horse we have always had a soft spot for.   He is a real character, as he showed at Ascot, when he hung badly left across the course and threw away a likely winning chance. In his defence, the race fell apart in front of him, after the leaders went off too hard and he was left in front for longer than he ideally wants to be.  He still gives the impression that he is a bit clueless, though again, in his defence he is lightly raced for a five-year-old and there is almost certainly more in the locker if we can cajole it out of him.  We will probably need all of it too as he has gone up 3lb for that effort.  We did try him over a mile and a quarter last year but we will keep him to a mile for now and may even drop him back to seven furlongs.  Comedy King is also higher in the official handicapper’s estimation now after finishing second at Doncaster.  Fortunately he didn’t come down on the home turn as did a couple of the unfortunate others, but even so, he slipped badly and did well to get back in the race as competitively as he did.  Hopefully he has grown up since last year and this is not another false dawn.

This weekend our attention is focussed on Bartholomew Fair who did a smart piece of work this week with Mount Logan and goes for the betfred.com Derby Trial at Lingfield.  We feel that he is up to that sort of level but whether he will stay the trip is something we are not quite so certain of.  His dam, Rebecca Sharp, was a miler and she is by Machiavellian who raced over 6 furlongs to a mile.  We also run Penhill at Ascot in the mile and a half handicap and we are looking forward to his first run for us.  Penhill was purchased at the Tattersalls Autumn Horses in Training Sales by Stephen Hillen for owner Tony Bloom.  He won three handicaps for his previous trainer James Bethell and his rating of 86 looks reasonable from what we have seen of him so far out on the gallops.  However, Ascot is not an easy track, and with a 12 runner field, having a clear uninterrupted run might just be the most important factor of all.  His record suggests he may be at his best on soft ground but his work on fast ground at home has been pleasing so we are hopeful.  We will probably also look at stepping him up in trip at some point later in the season.  Winterval, who made a satisfactory seasonal reappearance, runs at Nottingham in the mile handicap, while Laurence, who also ran well first time out this year, is pencilled in for Doncaster next Monday ahead of the Dante meeting at York at which we are unlikely to have many runners.

Our promising fillies Lady Of Dubai, Pamona and Dreamlike are all still some way off a run, but there is better news of White Lake who went to Lingfield on Tuesday for a barrier trial.  He behaved impeccably and was nice and relaxed throughout proceedings.  That is the second time he has been to Lingfield this year and been on his best behaviour so maybe he is trying to tell us that is where he would like to race next. His next intended outing, however, is the Heron Stakes at Sandown, so maybe we will have to take a detour via Lingfield first.

(Picture courtesy of Gerry Weatherhead)