Sacred staked her claim for next month’s Qipco 1000 Guineas with a decisive victory in the Lanwades Stud Nell Gwyn Stakes at Newmarket.
A winner on the Rowley Mile at the start of last season, the Cheveley Park Stud-owned filly went on to fill the runner-up spot in the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot, the Lowther at York and the Flying Childers at Doncaster.
The daughter of Exceed And Excel disappointed on her final juvenile start in September’s Cheveley Park Stakes – but stepping up to seven furlongs for the first time on her seasonal reappearance, she showed her true colours in a first-time tongue-tie.
Settled in behind the pace-setters for much of the race by Ryan Moore, the 6-1 shot briefly looked as though she could be all dressed up with nowhere to go racing out of the dip.
However, when the gap did come, Sacred displayed smart acceleration to take it and grab the lead – and she was ultimately well on top as she passed the post with three-quarters of a length in hand over the previously unbeaten Saffron Beach.
Winning trainer William Haggas was completing a quickfire Group Three double, following the success of My Oberon in the preceding Earl Of Sefton Stakes.
He said of Sacred: “She got beat in three Group Twos last year, which was frustrating, before she went off the boil.
“But I’ve always maintained she’d stay, and she’s proved that today. She’s got a nice turn of speed and she picked up really well.”
Haggas confirmed the plan to return to Newmarket for next month’s Classic.
“I don’t know the quality of the race – Saffron Beach is a very acceptable first-four shout in the Guineas, I think,” he said.
“Ryan said seven is her trip, but I think it’s a no-brainer to come back in two weeks – there’s only one of them a year, and she can always drop back down later.
“I don’t think she does much in front either, so if you’re brave you can wait longer.
“It’s difficult to know with Ryan, because he doesn’t say much even without a mask – so with one on it is hard to get it!
“But he’s great and a thorough professional. He was very pleased with her. He gave her a lovely ride, and I thought she won nicely.”
Saffron Beach is also Guineas-bound.
Her trainer Jane Chapple-Hyam said: “I thought she ran well – I was really pleased, Adam (Kirby) was happy with her, and she ran right through the line.
“She had a good blow, which we knew she would because she’s 85-90 per cent fit, so we’ll look forward to the Guineas now.
“She looked to me as if she’s ready for a mile now, comfortably. She was coming back at the line.
“Adam wasn’t too hard on her, because this wasn’t the Guineas. This was better than a stepping-stone – she’s got more black type, which is important, and she’ll come on for the run with a mile to suit, because she took some pulling up.”