My Prospero came out on top in the Coral Heron Stakes at Sandown, with Reach For The Moon running a fine race in second on his eagerly-awaited return to action.
Hopes were high Reach For The Moon might be the horse to give the Queen a Derby winner in Platinum Jubilee year, but his recovery from a setback meant a delayed start to his campaign, having been on the sidelines since finishing second to Bayside Boy in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster in September.
He was taken out of the Derby, with sights set instead on Royal Ascot, and he will undoubtedly have pleased his connections with his comeback effort, leading from the stalls opening under Frankie Dettori and still looking to be going strongly three furlongs out.
But just as Akhu Najla dropped away, My Prospero – a winner at Newbury last month who is entered in the St James’s Palace Stakes – came with surging finish to get on top inside the final furlong in the hands of Tom Marquand and hold his fellow 7-4 joint-favourite by a length and a quarter, marking himself out as another exciting prospect for William Haggas.
Of Reach For The Moon, who won the Solario Stakes at Sandown as a two-year-old, John Gosden said: “We were delighted. It was a lovely run and exactly what we had hoped for. We didn’t intend to make the running, but no one wanted to go on, so that was fine. He has run a super race and obviously wants stepping up in trip.
“That was a great run tonight and I’m really, really pleased with him. I didn’t want to go straight to a mile and three (furlongs, in the Cocked Hat at Goodwood). I definitely didn’t want to do that.
“I wanted to run at a track we know and wanted to run a bit under his trip because he basically is short of work. I was running out of time. I was definitely running out of time (for Ascot) and I made it clear he was 80 per cent, and I’m thrilled with his run.
“There are two races for him. The King Edward and the Hampton Court. The Hampton Court over a mile and a quarter and the King Edward a mile and a half. Oh, it’s early days. We’ll work it out and see how he is in the next few days and take it from there.”
The Haggas family celebrated the birth of a granddaughter at the weekend.
“We had a little girl. She has a little boy so she now has a little girl, so that’s great. We are a grandmother. Again,” smiled Maureen Haggas.
She added of the winner: “He is a very nice horse. I did have to talk to him beforehand and tell him that his sister (My Astra) won a Listed race by 12 lengths yesterday, so he actually did have a bit to live up to. But he is a baby still.
“I thought he looked very raw still in the race and he won on talent and a good ride. We are very lucky to have Tom on most of our horses and he really does make a difference. He have him a lovely ride. He had to get stuck into him a bit. He is a big beast.
“My Astra is a big filly and I ride her. She is tall, but this one is just enormous. I see him every day and you forget how big he is. The amount she has improved physically from three to four, he might do the same.
“I would maybe be a bit kinder to him than put him in the St James’s Palace Stakes. It is a big jump. This is a nice, easy five runners and it is a big jump and it might not be very kind to the horse.
“He might be a very good horse and it would be a pity to upset him. That is only my opinion.”