John Leeper kept his Cazoo Derby dreams alive with victory in the Betway Fairway Stakes at Newmarket.
Bred in the purple by Frankel out of Ed Dunlop’s brilliant racemare Snow Fairy, the imposing colt carries the name of the trainer’s late father and suggested he was a smart performer in the making with an emphatic success in a novice event at Newcastle last month.
Stepped up markedly in class to Listed level on the Rowley Mile, the 6-4 favourite did almost everything wrong in the early stages as William Buick tried his best to get him to settle.
But a smooth move to the head of affairs approaching three furlongs out caught the eye – and while he did not go immediately clear as the useful Tasman Bay stuck to his guns, he was ultimately well on top at the line, looking like another two furlongs would be well within his compass.
Bookmaker reaction for Epsom was positive, with Paddy Power and Betfair going 7-1 from 16-1 while Coral went 8-1 from 12-1.
Dunlop was relieved as well as excited after John Leeper’s victory.
“He’s named after my dad – so that is about as much pressure as you can get,” he said.
“He (Buick) said it was a farce of a race, because they trotted for however long.
“He was a little bit keen and fresh and inexperienced, but he can only get better with more racing.
“I’m sure the owner (Cristina Patino) will want to go to Epsom – she has had the dream to do it, and as long as he is OK that is what we will do.”
Dunlop was pleased to see Buick take the initiative after the slow early gallop.
He added: “William was good and he said ‘I’m not going to hang about here because this horse has not done very much’.
“The form of the race was good – and although he will need to step forward again, I think he deserves to go to Epsom as long as he is OK and conditions are right.
“I’m very pleased with the horse and for Mrs Patino particularly.”
Whatever happens in the Derby, Dunlop is confident John Leeper will progress with age and experience.
“This is only hopefully the start of a horse that will do well in the future,” he said.
“These are more battle-hardened horses than him, and he has beaten them.
“I was very surprised (when the owner said she was going to name him after my dad) – but she has loved the horse since he was born, and he is a beautiful horse.
“It is a great honour for the horse to be named after my father, so let’s hope he can live up to that.
“We’ve got through this stage, but there are plenty more to go.
“He is very immature – just look at the size of him – and he needs more practice, which is probably what you don’t want to hear going into a Derby.
“He has run three times in his life but he is going the right way, so we will see how we go.”
Bellosa added to Jane Chapple-Hyam’s strength in the fillies’ department with victory in the Betway King Charles II Stakes, to stay unbeaten.
Making all, the 6-4 favourite did drift across to the stands rail in the closing stags, but had enough in hand to readily hold Fundamental.
Chapple-Hyam – whose Saffron Beach found only Mother Earth too good in the 1000 Guineas – said: “She is nice, but she was green. She has never been among a batch of horses. She is so good out of the gates, she wants to get on with it. I didn’t want Richard to drag her back as she has got such a lovely long stride.
“I would prefer to go for the Jersey Stakes at Ascot as it is up the straight and we have beaten some boys today, but we will just see how she come out the race.”
She added: “For now on her third start I would like to remain at seven, but in time when she relaxes in her races she could step up to a mile or next year as a four-year-old.
“If Sir Edmund (Loder, owner-breeder) is happy we will put her in the Jersey Stakes. We will all sleep on it and see how she is and make a plan.
“I feel mentally there is more improvement in her and with more racing she will get the hang of it.”