Middleham Park aiming to set new benchmark following 100th winner

Leading ownership syndicate Middleham Park Racing are on course for their best ever year after Nelson Rocks registered their 100th winner of 2021 at Taunton.

Trained by Colin Tizzard and ridden by Harry Kimber, the evens favourite won the Summerfield Developments Novices’ Handicap Hurdle by three-quarters of a length.

The now famous blue and orange colours are becoming a more familiar sight in the National Hunt game and with the all-weather scene continuing apace, the Middleham Park team should get the four winners they need to pass their previous best.

“We have had 100 winners once before in the calendar year but this is just the second time. We’re absolutely thrilled,” said Tim Palin, director of racing for the syndicate.

“Our best total is 103, so hopefully we can get to 104 or 105 in December and that will be a new record. Last December we had five winners I think, so hopefully we will again.”

While there were initial worries about how the business would continue to function when racing shut down during the pandemic last year, a slight readjustment in strategy has seen them flourish.

“Lockdown, like for any business, was a testing time but as people weren’t able to get out and about and they had a bit of disposable income, they decided to put it into one or two new ventures,” said Palin.

“I think what actually happened was it focussed everyone’s minds on enjoying themselves and doing something to brighten up your day. That was my reading of the situation. And those who were with us were fantastically loyal.

“Strangely, not only did we survive the last 18 months, we actually expanded.

“While we might not have had a Group One horse this year, we’ve sort of gone back to basics to make sure we didn’t over-expose. We might not have spent as much as in the past, we’ve worn sensible shoes.”

Looking ahead to 2022, Palin has high hopes for a new addition to the string.

Atalis Bay will be racing in the MPR colours next year
Atalis Bay will be racing in the MPR colours next year (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“We’ve bought Atalis Bay out of Marco Botti’s who is rated 103,” he said.

“He’s now with Robert Cowell and could go to Dubai, we purchased him in a partnership with Tom Morley.

“Other than our 18 two-year-olds, he’d be our most exciting horse. It wouldn’t be a huge shock if he won a Group Two or even a Group One.”

Arecibo leads Sandown charge for Cowell

Royal Ascot runner-up Arecibo will bid to go one better in the Coral Charge at Sandown on Saturday.

Robert Cowell’s six-year-old was last seen finishing behind Oxted in the Group One King’s Stand Stakes, defying odds of 28-1.

That performance on good to firm ground was days before the deluge at the Royal meeting, but Cowell’s gelding also has form on slower going and should not be hindered by whatever conditions are presented for this weekend’s Group Three contest.

“He was a pretty decent second at Royal Ascot, which we were thrilled about,” Cowell said.

“He’s got good form on soft and fast, so regardless of the ground he should have a good chance, he might prefer the ground more than some of the others will.”

The trainer’s only concern was the nature of the track at the Esher venue, which cuts through the main oval course and rises uphill throughout.

Cowell added: “Sandown can be a bit funny as they all roll on top of each other sometimes, so it can be a bit of a tricky track, but I think if he stays out of trouble he should run well.

“I know there’s only 10 runners and it’s a slightly smaller field but Sandown’s a funny old place, you can get stuck behind horses and it can get quite tricky.

“Off his rating he’s got a very good chance if he does what he did at Ascot.”

Cowell also runs the grey Rocket Action, who will look to claim his first victory since late 2019.

He said: “I don’t know why, but he wasn’t well after he ran in France early this year as he came back not quite right. It has taken some time to get him healthy again.

“We have put him in a visor, just to sharpen him up. He worked very well in them the other day and it could be something that revitalises his enthusiasm. He looks really well.”

Marco Botti is hoping conditions stay dry for his in-form colt Atalis Bay.

The three-year-old has run three times this season, winning on his first outing before finishing second in the Listed Westow Stakes and then taking the Scurry Stakes at Sandown, also a Listed race.

Atalis Bay winning the Scurry Stakes
Atalis Bay winning the 2021 Scurry Stakes (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Atalis Bay faces older horses together with stepping up to Group Three level, a task his trainer feels he can manage providing the going comes in his favour.

“He’s in good order, he won well in the Listed race at Sandown,” he said.

“We’re hoping the ground will keep drying out, the forecast now has changed to dry for the rest of the week.

“The ground would be borderline for him (at the moment), the quicker the better – good ground would be fine, but I wouldn’t like to run him on any softer than good ground.

“Obviously this is a step up in class and taking on the older horses is never an easy task, but he’s done nothing wrong this year and he’s progressing.”

Lazuli winning the 2020 Scurry Stakes
Lazuli winning the 2020 Scurry Stakes (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Atalis Bay is one of two three-year-olds in the field along with Richard Hannon’s Happy Romance, while Charlie Appleby’s four-year-old Lazuli travels to Sandown off the back of a Group Three win in the Palace House Stakes at Newmarket.

Appleby said: “He goes into the race fit and well, but we will be on weather watch. He was declared on soft ground and we are hoping it is going to dry back a good bit.

“If there is any more rain on top of where we are he is probably an unlikely participant.

“He is fit and well, but it has been frustrating as we have been trying to get a run into him for a while now. Haydock Park (Temple Stakes) was soft ground and he missed an option in France because of the soft ground. We are chasing the good for him.”

John Quinn’s Keep Busy is also in winning form after taking the Listed Land O’Burns Fillies’ Stakes at Ayr on her last appearance, prior to which she finished fifth in the King’s Stand under Ryan Moore.

Moore rides again and told Betfair: “She is a tough and talented filly who takes her racing well, and she has stronger claims than most in here.

“She returned to near her best when fifth in the King’s Stand for me, and followed that up with a fairly decisive win in Listed company at Ayr last time.

“She finished a good second in the Scurry here last season and a bit of ease in the ground is fine too. Hopefully, her draw on the rail in (stall) one proves a positive.”

Completing the field are Ed Walker’s Palace House runner-up Came From The Dark, Karl Burke’s Ainsdale, Tim Easterby’s Count D’orsay and the Andrew Balding-trained Stone Of Destiny.

Botti eyes Sandown return for Atalis Bay

Atalis Bay is on target to return to Sandown for the Coral Charge next week.

Marco Botti’s sprinter continued his progression with an all-the-way win in the Scurry Stakes at the Esher venue last time out.

That came on the back of a creditable run at York when second to Tim Easterby’s speedy filly Winter Power, who ran so well for a long way in the King’s Stand last week.

“The Coral Charge is what we are aiming for on Saturday week,” said Botti.

“He has come out of the race in great form, and ground permitting – because he wants good ground – the plan will be to go back to Sandown.

“It makes sense to go back to Sandown as long as the ground is fine. We know he is going up in class, so he will have to give a little more extra, but he is clearly improving and going the right way and he has done nothing wrong in three runs this year.

“It was an ideal spot for him last time. He showed plenty of toe from the gate -and when he got to the furlong pole and they challenged him, he picked up and found an extra gear.”

Stablemate Felix finished sixth in the Wolferton Stakes at Ascot last week – a performance Botti admitted left him feeling slightly disappointed – and he will be given time to get over those exertions. Before that, he had been third to Lord North in the Dubai Turf.

“We are maybe considering Sandown (Gala Stakes) for Felix, but I would probably say I’m more inclined to go to Newbury for the Listed race there on July 17 because it gives him a little bit more time between his races,” said the Newmarket trainer.

“I was expecting a little bit more at Ascot – but having said that, he ran his race. The ground was plenty quick enough, and maybe it was just a little bit too quick.”

Atalis Bay justifies Marco Botti’s decision to skip Ascot

Atalis Bay was a convincing winner of the Listed Coral “Beaten By A Length” Free Bet Scurry Stakes at Sandown.

Andrea Atzeni had Marco Botti’s sprinter prominent throughout – and after taking control mid-race, the 6-4 favourite never appeared under any real threat despite Warrior Brave emerging from the pack.

Atalis Bay had enough under his sleeve to win by three-quarters of a length.

The Cable Bay colt was providing a pointer to the Royal Ascot pretensions of Winter Power – who beat him into second in York’s Westow Stakes last month – as well as signalling his own potential as a progressive three-year-old.

Newmarket trainer Botti chose to target this weekend feature race rather than pitch Atalis Bay into Royal Ascot – and the winner duly justified his judgment.

Runner-up Warrior Brave was among his closest pursuers throughout, but could never peg him back – with Irish challenger Steel Bull staying on best of the remainder to finish third, another two and a half lengths back.

The Newmarket trainer said of his winner: “He has got tons of speed. He has got faster and faster since he was a two-year-old

“He pinged the stalls, and Andrea said he was two lengths clear. He said he was trying not to go too quick.

“I thought in the last furlong, when the other horses came to challenge him, he picked up again and ran strongly to the line.

“This is his trip – five furlongs on fast ground. He just keeps improving. Last year he was a nice horse – but not at this level – and this year, I just think he has got stronger and turned into a proper sprinter.”

After a first success at Listed level for Atalis Bay, Botti is understandably happy to have sidestepped Ascot – and is looking forward to a rise in class next, with a possible return to Sandown for next month’s Group Three Coral Charge.

He added: “We could have gone for at Royal Ascot – but he is rated 103, and you are going to give away plenty of weight in a big field.

“So we thought this would suit him quite well as long as the ground was going to be good – and it has worked out well.”

As for the next move, he said: “There are two options.

“There is a Group Three here at the beginning of July. He obviously has to take on the older horses now, or perhaps we go to Goodwood (King George Stakes) and take that route.

“He will have to improve again, taking on the older horses, but he seems to be going that way.

“There would be enough time to take in both races, but he is a horse that likes being freshened up after a run.

“We will see how he comes out it and keep an eye on the ground – but it is good to have options.”

Scurry fits bill for Atalis Bay

Marco Botti is hoping Atalis Bay can vindicate the decision to bypass Royal Ascot in favour of the Coral “Beaten By A Length ” Free Bet Scurry Stakes at Sandown.

A winner of four of his eight races to date, Atalis Bay struggled to keep tabs on Tim Easterby’s impressive Winter Power at York last time out – but given she is among the leading fancies for the King’s Stand, there was no disgrace in that.

He beat the rest comfortably enough, and Botti feels he will be better off in Saturday’s Listed race than giving away weight in a handicap next week.

“He seems well – we’re coming here instead of Royal Ascot, and he seems in good order,” said the Newmarket trainer.

“I think he just bumped into a very good filly at York – but he pulled away from the rest of the field, so I thought that was a good run.

“He’s a stronger horse this year and has definitely progressed since last season – he’s turned into a proper sprinter now, which sometimes happens as they get older.

“Drawn in four is not a problem. It’s a small field, and he’s in the middle, so that is fine.

“He won over six (furlongs) last season – but at the level he’s at now, I think five is right for him. It was a lower class race he won over six – and Andrea (Atzeni), who knows him well, said he’s almost having to hold on to him over six, whereas over five he can use his speed.

“This race is perfect for three-year-olds who need five furlongs. The option at Ascot for him was the Palace of Holyrood House – but that would be a big field handicap, and he’d be almost top weight, he’d likely be giving weight to some nice horses.

“So, we thought we’d keep it simple and stick to what we know.”

There are two Irish contenders lining up – including Michael O’Callaghan’s Steel Bull, who won the Molecomb Stakes at Goodwood last summer but has not scored since.

He was beaten a long way by Ireland’s new sprint star Logo Hunter first time out this year.

O’Callaghan said: “He needed his first run of the season. It was his first start against older horses, and the ground wasn’t ideal, but he has come out of the race well.

Steel Bull was a winner at Glorious Goodwood
Steel Bull was a winner at Glorious Goodwood (Steven Cargill/PA)

“Back over a fast five furlongs in England will suit him. He has a lot of natural speed – and the way he has to be ridden and held up, the draw might actually suit him.

“It is tough for three-year-old sprinters. We will just feel our way through this year, because I think he will develop into a really good sprinter.”

Kevin Coleman’s Queens Carriage, winner of her last three, has also made the journey from Ireland.

Mick Appleby’s Warrior Brave has won two of his last three, but this could be his swansong in the colours of current owners The Horsewatchers.

Appleby said: “He is possibly going to go in the London Sale (staged online by Goffs on Monday) after this if he runs well, and if he doesn’t he probably won’t and we might save him for the Wokingham, but the owners have lots of options.

“He did it well at Goodwood and he is progressing well, but this is his toughest race. He has run at five (furlongs) the last two times, but I think six is more his ideal trip.”