Spanish Mission may be set for high-profile and long-distance adventures next year if he first proves up to the task in the bet365 Doncaster Cup on Town Moor.
The 2021 Ascot Gold Cup and Melbourne Cup perhaps sound ambitious, but the four-year-old will be taking a big step in that direction should he lift Friday’s historic two-and-a-quarter-mile Group Two contest.
Spanish Mission has some smart form on the board, including victory in the Bahrain Trophy at Newmarket last year and finishing second in the Henry II Stakes at Sandown in May, when trained by David Simcock.
He is now with Andrew Balding and got off the mark first time for the Kingsclere handler in a Listed race over an extended mile and three-quarters at Chester last month.
“What we wanted to do was to give him a freshener and give him his best chance to win and feel good – and it worked,” said Barry Irwin, founder and chief executive of Team Valor, who own the horse with Gary Barber.
“He won off David Simcock’s training, and he was pointing him at this race, so he deserves the credit for that even though he didn’t have the horse that day.
“Since then the horse has done well, according to Andrew. He phoned me on Saturday after he had worked the horse, (and) he was very enthusiastic and very happy.
“Andrew and I had a long conversation, and his idea was if the horse stays two and a quarter or two and a half miles, he could be an ideal horse for the Ascot Gold Cup next year.
“He does have a turn of foot, which most stayers don’t. He goes to the Doncaster Cup in good form. If he can do it, next year we know what to do. If not, we’ll go back to the drawing board.”
He added: “The long-term goal with this horse is the Melbourne Cup – not this year, but next year when he’s five, and the year after when he’s six and more mature.
“He was a light-bodied horse last year. This year he’s got better, and I think next year he’ll reach his maturity and we’ll find out if can do it.”
Among Spanish Mission’s rivals, Revolver has gone from strength to strength since moved up in trip and is unbeaten in six handicaps this season.
However, Sir Mark Prescott’s three-year-old is taking a big rise in class for a race that forms part of the Qipco British Champions Series.
“He’s a very tall, leggy, narrow horse, but athletic and keeps winning,” said the Newmarket trainer.
“He’s won over two miles and one at Pontefract, so we know he stays, and the big, galloping track at Doncaster suits him.
“It’s a question of whether he’s good enough. Other horses in there would have a bit more class and have done it time and time again.”
Prescott, 72 – who has been training at Heath House in Newmarket for 50 years – did not expect Revolver to prove such a potent force over long distances, or be so prolific.
“He’s by a sprinter (Slade Power), and when we started him we were thinking he would be a seven-furlong or mile horse – but he didn’t work particularly well,” he said.
“As he went up in distance he stayed and stayed, which you wouldn’t have expected. He works well now that he’s with the stayers. As long as you get it right in the end, as we have with him, then it’s OK, but we don’t always.”
Since 1995, 11 three-year-olds have contested the race – and Prescott has been responsible for six of them. His challengers have either won, been placed or run creditably.
He said: “I suppose we specialise in staying three-year-olds, but we also won it with Pallasator (in 2015), too, when he was a six-year-old. Revolver is a very nice horse.”
Red Verdon is a dual course winner, but has yet to run over this extreme distance.
However, he has run creditably over two miles in the past, including when second in the Group Two Henry II Stakes at Sandown in 2018.
His two wins from three starts this term both came over a mile and three-quarters.
The seven-year-old was not quite as effective on heavy ground when fourth to Telecaster over an extended mile and a half at Deauville on his latest start.
Trainer Ed Dunlop is happy to put a line through that performance.
“It was very deep ground, the last run, so probably it’s best to ignore that,” he said.
“The ground will be better at Doncaster. First time at this trip, but he’s run over two miles before.
“He seems well, and fingers crossed. It’s competitive, but he’s in good form and we’ll give it a go.”
The David O’Meara stable is represented by Eagles By Day – with Heather Main’s Island Brave, the James Fanshawe-trained Selino and The Grand Visir, for Ian Williams, completing the seven-strong field.