Hugo can prove the master

Only eight runners line up for tomorrow’s Group 2 Sandy Lane Stakes, but it remains a classy looking renewal with all bar one of the contenders having an official rating of 106 or above.

Open to three-year-olds, several of these are likely to use this event as a stepping stone to Royal Ascot and a crack at the Commonwealth Cup. Four from last year’s event headed to the Royal Meeting including the William Haggis trained Adaay. He won here 12 months ago, defeating Limato, with New Providence and Salt Island further back. Weeks later the four headed to Ascot, with Limato performing best, when chasing home one of the stars of 2015 Muhaarar, whilst Adaay could only finish back in seventh.

The Sandy Lane has gone to decent sorts over the years but rarely has a truly class act took the event. Slade Power was one class act that did find success here in 2012. Ed Lynam’s sprinter defeated Es Que Love and Lethal Force in a stellar renewal. He of course went on to win numerous prestigious events, having his best year in 2014 when taking the Diamond Jubilee and the July Cup. Likewise, Lethal Force went on to become one of the best, completing the same double a year earlier.

This tends to be a race won by one of the fancied runners. In the last ten renewals the longest odds winner was sent off at 6/1. The fillies have a good record in recent years having taken three of the last seven, though the last was Show Rainbow in 2011.

Of tomorrow’s contenders, Hugo Palmer’s Gifted Master looks set to go off favourite. He’s impressed in two starts this season, making all at Newmarket before winning a Group 3 at Ascot. He was beaten by Buratino as a two-year-old at Newmarket, though was held-up that day, and is undefeated since being allowed to bowl along in front.

Buratino failed to see out the trip in the 2000 Guineas and is dropped back to six furlongs by Mark Johnston. He was one of the best juveniles, having won the Coventry Stakes at Ascot before chasing home Shalaa in the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket. If he’s trained on from two to three (tough to tell from his first run), he should go close here.

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Henry Candy came second in this last year with Limato, and runs the filly Rioja this time round. Owned by Qatar Racing, she looked a class act in her last two outings as a juvenile. She won a Group 3 last time out, but this will be by far her toughest test, and she arrives here without a prep run. Though fillies have a decent record in the race, she has to take on several classy looking colts, and I’d be surprised if she is ready for such a challenge. Paul Kealy appeared keen on her when writing in his Weekender column, but she’s not for me.

Richard Fahey runs Donjuan Triumphant, with Ryan Moore taking the ride. He’s by Dream Ahead, and will probably need soft ground to be seen at his best. He won a Group 2 in France by more than five lengths last October in testing ground. Prior to that he had won the Rockingham Stakes at York, beating Gracious John by almost four lengths. The drying ground at Haydock may be against him, but he remains a horse with huge potential. Like La Rioja, this will be his seasonal debut, so he also has to prove that he has trained on from two to three.

William Haggas attempts to repeat last year’s win with a nice looking colt Ajaya. A son of Invincible Spirit, this fella had a profitable juvenile campaign, most notably when winning the Group 2 Gimcrack Stakes at York. He was behind Buratino in the Middle Park, but that was at the end of a busy campaign. Yet another making his seasonal debut, he has to have a chance.

It’s a really tough race to call. Juvenile form doesn’t always hold true for obvious reasons. Gifted Master is a justified favourite on what we’ve seen thus far, but several of these arrive without a run and are therefore unknown quantities. I think the favourite will take some catching on this particular track, though I’m a fan of Buratino.

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