Hugo Palmer is not ruling out dropping Ebro River back to the minimum trip after he returned to form in the Listed Freddie Wilson Queensferry Stakes at Chester.
The three-year-old son of Palmer’s 2000 Guineas winner Galileo Gold had endured a luckless run of defeats since landing the Group One Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh almost a year ago.
Equipped with blinkers for the first time and sent off the 5-2 joint-favourite, Ben Curtis’ mount took a keen hold and stayed on well to defeat Princess Shabnam by half a length.
Palmer recoded a double on the card when Fools Rush In (13-2) took the extended seven-furlong Kids Pass Handicap under Harry Davies.
The trainer said: “It was fantastic to see Ebro get his head in front, but the other horse deserves it just as much.
“He hasn’t put in a bad race all year and was only beaten five and three-quarter lengths in the Buckingham Palace at Royal Ascot on ground that he hated, and he really deserved to win.”
Palmer, who moved from Kremlin House stables in Newmarket to become a salaried trainer at Michael Owen’s Manor House stables in the spring, was keen to take the blame for Ebro River’s poor run of form, which included defeats in a pair of Group One contests over seven furlongs in the autumn, in the Vincent O’Brien National Stakes and the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere.
“I wonder whether over-facing him twice over seven furlongs at the end of last season knocked his confidence. I just wonder,” said Palmer.
“The soft ground today, he loved that. He put a huge effort into the National Stakes and you can’t underestimate what it is for this horse to really be the alpha.
“Good horses are alphas and they want to put their head in front. Confidence, belief and the ability to dominate is all about what it is to be an alpha animal.
“And he’d done that – and we knocked his confidence over seven furlongs. It was worth exploring, but it didn’t work.
“I just hope that today will give him his confidence back and he will start progressing. I think the blinkers focussed him to get to a level he hasn’t gone to since the National Stakes last year.
“You can’t knock his National Stakes run (when beaten four lengths by subsequent Classic winner Native Trail). But you can knock every run since.
“He hasn’t probably run to a very big figure today, but he only blew for five minutes. He would not know he’d had a race – he did that in second gear.
“Ben rode him beautifully and I think the ground was key. Ben filled him up all the way round and he shot clear. If anything had come to him, he would have gone again.”
Though Ebro River holds a Phoenix Sprint Stakes entry next weekend, Palmer is not expecting him to take up that Group Three engagement at the Curragh.
“I probably will leave him in it, although the intention is to run Dubawi Legend in that race. He wants much better ground,” added the 41-year-old handler.
“Looking at the weather forecast, I think Ireland will get some rain in the next 36 hours. Then high pressure is coming in. The Curragh drains well and I think it will be quite nice ground. I don’t think Ebro River will be going there, I think Dubawi Legend will.
“Ebro is in the Nunthorpe (August 19). It is probably not the strongest Nunthorpe, but it is going to need to be very soft ground for him to take part. But who knows, the weather could break in three weeks’ time?
“He is a Listed winner over five furlongs, he is a maiden winner of over five furlongs and he over-travelled through the race today as well. So, I wouldn’t have any hesitation to drop him back to five furlongs if the ground came.
“But to be honest, I am just so totally relieved to have got him back in the winner’s enclosure.
“He has got to step forward a lot as well. I’ve been quite open about last year, when he was a Listed winner who came up short in three consecutive Group Twos and we found a very ordinary Group One to win – and he won it very well.
“It is great that he is a stakes winner at three. He is a big, powerful horse and if he goes forward from here, the last four or five runs will look like a blip on his career – but it is a big ‘if’.
“But today was particularly nice to get a double at Chester with a horse I inherited and a horse that I brought, and that was quite sweet.
“To have a double from both old and new is really nice. We’re over the moon.”