Masekela given Derby mission after passing stalls test

Andrew Balding reports Masekela on course to run in the Cazoo Derby having passed a stalls test.

The El Kabeir colt won the Denford Stakes and was also a short-head second to Native Trail in the Superlative Stakes as a two-year-old and returned to finish an encouraging runner-up to Eydon in the Feilden Stakes in his first outing at three.

Although withdrawn at the start of the Dante Stakes earlier this month, his intended Derby prep race, Balding has now confirmed it is all systems go for Epsom and the colt is doing nothing but please his trainer in the build up to the premier Classic.

“He passed his stalls test on Monday and that (Derby) is the intention,” said Balding.

“I think the horse has improved a good deal since Newmarket, especially in his home work. Obviously, there is stamina question marks on his sire’s side, but also some room for optimism on the dam’s side.

“I’ve been impressed by the way he has worked since the Feilden Stakes and on his two-year-old form he’s not a million miles away from at least deserving his place in the field.”

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Goodwood Festival – Day Five
Imperial Fighter will head for the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot (John Walton/PA)

Balding also expressed his delight at Imperial Fighter’s fine effort to make the podium in the Irish 2,000 Guineas. A step up in trip is now on the cards for the son of The Gurkha, with his next outing pencilled in for Royal Ascot.

He continued: “It was a good effort. He’s a horse I think will appreciate going a little bit further, but it cemented the impression we had of him as a two-year-old. It was really encouraging and the Hampton Court is the most likely aim for him.”

In other Derby news, Charlie Hills has swooped to book Tom Marquand for Sonny Liston, who is set to be the trainer’s first runner in the premier Classic.

Marquand would have ridden Lysander, but has become available now William Haggas has diverted the three-year-old away from Epsom and towards Royal Ascot.

Tom Marquand File Photo
Tom Marquand has been snapped up for the ride aboard Sonny Liston in the Cazoo Derby (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Hills explained the decision to replace usual pilot Marco Ghiani with Marquand in his William Hill blog and said: “Marco has done nothing wrong on him in his first three starts, but we just felt we should try to get someone with a little bit more experience.

“We all know how well Tom is riding at the moment. He’s in great form, is riding with huge confidence, and those are things you can’t beat really. We’re really looking forward to having him in the saddle next Saturday.”

Sonny Liston has not tasted success since impressing at Sandown on debut, but following an encouraging performance at Chester last time, Hills is hoping he can outrun his current odds of 50-1.

Sonny Liston File Photo
Sonny Liston, here winning at Sandown in 2021, is set to line up in the Cazoo Derby (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Hills continued: “He’s run pretty well on both starts this season and we just thought we’d give it a crack. That (50-1) might be a bit harsh on his chances because I’d like to think he’s got a strong each-way chance and I certainly don’t see him as being there to make up the numbers.

“He’s a beautiful mover and he would have learnt plenty going around Chester, so we’re really looking forward to it. What a year to be involved with the Platinum Jubilee and it’s an event myself and the whole yard are really excited about.

“While his runs at Newmarket and Chester have been more than respectable, I’d have thought there is a lot more he can give. They went no gallop in the Feilden and so the race turned into a bit of a sprint which didn’t really suit, while at Chester he didn’t really handle the track.

“Everything came a bit quick for him and so the fact he was still able to finish as close as he did was most encouraging.”

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