Tag Archive for: Middleham Park Racing

Globetrotter Brave Emperor all set for Qatar run

Middleham Park Racing’s well-travelled Brave Emperor will try to break new ground as he bids for further Group success in Qatar on Saturday.

The gelding is one of racing’s most prolific globetrotters and has brought home significant prize money from Italy, Germany, France and Sweden in the last year alone – as well as winning on home turf.

He won the Listed Prix de la Californie at Cagnes-Sur-Mer last term before travelling around Europe to pick up three Group Three events and the Group Two Premio Vittorio Di Capua at San Siro in November.

Now Archie Watson’s charge will return to action at the same level in the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Cup at the Amir Sword meeting in Qatar this weekend.

The bay is currently settling in ahead of his first run in the Middle East and will compete for a total prize fund of nearly £400,000, with the winning connections taking home over £225,000.

“He’s the second top-rated for the race, he definitely deserves his chance and it’s fantastic prize money,” said Tim Palin of Middleham Park.

“It’s going to be the experience of a lifetime for the half a dozen owners going over.

“It’s going to be once in a lifetime, for all they’ve tasted success in Milan and Sweden, twice in Germany and in France as well.

“He’s a real globetrotting horse, he’s the perfect horse. He’s a Group Two winner and three times a Group Three winner.

“He was originally purchased as a yearling by Robson Aguiar and we bought him privately as a two-year-old just before the breeze-ups.

“He’s been an absolute revelation for us and everybody has experienced a fantastic journey with him. Hopefully he’ll continue to acquit himself well on Saturday.”

Marie’s Rock set to target second Mares’ Hurdle triumph

Connections of Marie’s Rock appear to have abandoned ambitions of conquering the staying hurdling division in favour of another crack at the Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Her previous attempts at three miles have proved fruitless, but the team behind Nicky Henderson’s nine-year-old have always felt they needed further evidence over a staying distance before completely giving up on the Stayers’ Hurdle dream.

A run in the Cleeve Hurdle later in the month was mooted as the potential acid test of her staying credentials, but following a seven-length defeat by a resurgent Bob Olinger when trying to defend her Relkeel Hurdle crown, attentions will be turned to another run over two and a half miles at the Festival in March and an attempt to win the mares’ only Grade One for a second time.

Marie's Rock (right) could not match Bob Olinger at Cheltenham
Marie’s Rock (right) could not match Bob Olinger at Cheltenham (Nigel French/PA)

“I think she ran a Marie’s Rock race. They went a good enough gallop. James (Bowen) was very happy with how she settled and she jumped very well,” said Middleham Park’s National Hunt racing manager Tom Palin.

“I think we were just beaten by a resurgent Bob Olinger and you can do nothing but tip your cap and go ‘well played’.

“We were discussing about going three miles again, but I would say at this point we are going to go for the Mares’ Hurdle. That would be the hot take, if you were.

“I think this tells us we should be looking back to what we know and to go and try to win the Mares’ Hurdle again. Hopefully, we get a truer-run race in it this year.”

Marie’s Rock won at the Cheltenham Festival in 2022
Marie’s Rock won at the Cheltenham Festival in 2022 (David Davies/PA)

Although surrendering her Relkeel crown to Henry de Bromhead’s on-song raider, the Middleham Park Racing team were pleased with Marie’s Rock’s efforts at Prestbury Park and will now return their star mare to her own sex for her Festival tune-up, which is likely to be Warwick’s Listed Hurdle on February 10.

“That performance she put in was the real Marie’s Rock and I think that performance is good enough to be competitive in a Mares’ Hurdle at the Festival,” continued Palin.

“I don’t think we will go to Ascot (for the Warfield) or the Cleeve Hurdle.

“I think we will go to Warwick for the Listed race she won before the Mares’ Hurdle at the Festival. That is in mid-February. That is about six weeks away now, then it is a month to the Festival and that appears the route we will go.”

Relkeel target for Marie’s Rock on New Year’s Day

Marie’s Rock is being readied for a defence of her Relkeel Hurdle crown on New Year’s Day after connections decided against a tilt at Saturday’s Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.

Nicky Henderson’s dual Grade One winner proved much too strong for Dashel Drasher in the Relkeel at Cheltenham last season, prompting the Middleham Park Racing team to seriously consider stepping up to three miles in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival in March.

Ultimately, though, she was kept against her own sex in a bid to secure back-to-back victories in the Mares’ Hurdle, but failed to fire as retiring superstar Honeysuckle stole the show.

Nicky Henderson with Marie's Rock
Nicky Henderson with Marie’s Rock (David Davies/PA)

Having subsequently run with credit over the extended distance at Aintree in the spring, optimism was high when she tackled three miles again in last month’s Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, but Marie’s Rock could finish only fourth behind her old rival Dashel Drasher, prompting a change of direction.

“She was a bit too free and fresh at Newbury to get an accurate reading on whether she stayed the three miles and we’ve decided to go back to what we know for her next start,” said Middleham Park’s National Hunt racing manager Tom Palin.

“I was probably a bit too bullish for my own good before Newbury, but horses to have a tendency to make you look silly at times! She was certainly the liveliest I’ve seen her in recent memory in the parade ring beforehand and Nico (de Boinville) felt the damage was done before the tapes even went up.

“We’ll go back to two and a half on soft ground at Cheltenham, which we know she loves, burn some more freshness off her and get her really fit before going back up to three miles, either in the Cleeve Hurdle back at Cheltenham on Trials day or there’s a Grade Two mares’ race at Ascot on January 20.”

Bob Olinger could face Marie's Rock at Cheltenham
Bob Olinger could face Marie’s Rock at Cheltenham (Tim Goode/PA)

Palin is fully aware the Relkeel Hurdle will be no penalty kick for Marie’s Rock, with Henry de Bromhead’s resurgent Irish star Bob Olinger among her potential rivals.

He added: “It’s not a bad race the Relkeel, by the way – it’s not a case of we’re dodging the Long Walk and ‘only’ going for the Relkeel. It was a very competitive race last year and it looks like it’s going to be at least as strong this time around.

“Unless it’s very obvious in the Relkeel that she doesn’t want any further, we’re keen to give her another go over three miles afterwards as that will tell us whether we aim for the Mares’ Hurdle again at the Festival or have another look at the Stayers’ Hurdle.

“She is a mare at the end of the day, so let’s see if we can get some more wins into her, starting off in a race where we know everything should be right for her.”

Jury still out regarding Marie’s Rock stamina

Freshness has been cited as the reason for the below-par display from Marie’s Rock at Newbury, with owners Middleham Park Racing no closer to knowing if their star mare truly stays three miles.

The Nicky Henderson-trained eight-year-old was a Cheltenham Festival heroine for her syndicate members in 2022 before following up at the Punchestown Festival the following month.

She added to her haul of victories when successfully reappearing in the Relkeel Hurdle on New Year’s Day but failed to defend her Mares’ Hurdle crown when seventh behind Honeysuckle.

Having decided against a move up to three miles at the Festival, connections finally made the step up in distance at Aintree a month later, where she finished second to a thriving Sire Du Berlais.

Given another chance to prove herself over a staying trip, Marie’s Rock was sent off the 6-5 favourite to get her new campaign off to a winning start in Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle.

However, over-exuberance both pre-race and in the early exchanges put paid to her chances and left connections willing to put a line through her disappointing fourth-placed finish under Nico de Boinville.

Marie’s Rock in action at Punchestown
Marie’s Rock in action at Punchestown (Niall Carson/PA)

“I suspected we knew our fate when she was leaving the parade ring really, and she was as wound up as I’ve seen her in recent memory,” explained Tom Palin, racing manager for Middleham Park’s National Hunt string.

“She is Marie’s Rock, she does get sweaty and she does get buzzy, but she was very, very on it and Nico said she was on it at the start, just always on her nerves.

“She came there looking like she was going to be deadly and nothing was found and that was because she spent her energy at the start really, the damage was done before the tapes went up.

“There’s a fine line with horses like her and she’s so brilliant and so quick, but you just need to harness it and I think she was just too fresh and too free to do herself any form of justice.”

The defeat has left the Middleham Park team scratching their heads regarding Marie’s Rock’s next move, still lacking clarity over their eight-time winner’s staying potential.

Although eased in the Long Walk Hurdle market, connections are refusing to completely give up on three-mile ambitions, despite a crack at back-to-back Relkeel Hurdle victories followed by the Mares’ Hurdle back down in trip creeping onto the radar.

“We’ll regroup and go again and see whether we go again over three miles next time or drop back to two-and-a-half for the Relkeel,” added Palin.

“She’s the defending champion in that and is very good over two-and-a-half-miles at Cheltenham. That could be just the ticket, or we could stick to three miles in the Long Walk.

“We’ll have a bit of a discussion as a syndicate and with the trainer and see just where she is in the next 10 days or so.

“She was too free to accurately judge if she is going to be a three miler or not, but what I would say is that at this stage, the Mares'(Hurdle) is a bit more open to consideration than it was going into Friday.

“My comments (previously) have been it’s very much just the three-mile route, but when the facts change, your opinions are allowed to change as well and I’m not as all-in – nor is Nicky or the team – on the three-mile division being her sole campaign this year. We’ll know more as the season goes on.”

Trainer Nicky Henderson and Marie’s Rock at Seven Barrows
Trainer Nicky Henderson and Marie’s Rock at Seven Barrows (David Davies/PA)

If abandoning the Long Walk in favour of the Relkeel, one possible route available to the Marie’s Rock team is a temporary drop in distance that allows the mare the chance to defend her crown, before a third attempt at three miles over the Stayers’ Hurdle track and trip in the Cleeve Hurdle on Festival Trials Day.

“You could go Relkeel and then onto the Cleeve at the end of the month and go back up to three miles that way,” continued Palin.

“Then she will be hard fit because she’s had two runs, burnt off any freshness and there would be no excuses.

“You would have a pretty good sighter and handle on whether she is right to line up in a Grade One staying race from there on in.”

Middleham Park big guns to clash in Long Distance Hurdle

Middleham Park hurdlers Red Risk and Marie’s Rock are likely to cross paths in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury next month.

Both horses run in the silks of the ownership group, and Marie’s Rock has won at the highest level for connections, taking both the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and the Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown last year.

The Nicky Henderson-trained mare was second to Sire Du Berlais in the Liverpool Hurdle on her final start last season and will reappear for the new campaign over the staying trip.

There she will encounter Paul Nicholls’ Red Risk, an eight-year-old who has been moving out of handicap company in recent starts and made a promising start to the season when second in the Grade Two bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby’s Charlie Hall meeting.

Tom Palin of Middleham Park said of the two horses: “I think they’re going to do battle, they’ll be taking each other on at Newbury in the three-mile Grade Two there (December 1).

Marie’s Rock ridden by jockey Nico de Boinville
Marie’s Rock ridden by jockey Nico de Boinville (Niall Carson/PA)

“That’s been Marie’s Rock’s target for a while, that was the logical starting point for her.

“Red Risk ran a cracker at Wetherby, I thought we were going to go past the other horse but he really toughed it out as well. We were delighted with the run.

“He does go very well fresh, we’ll run at Newbury but the one question we have is whether it’s a bit too soon after Wetherby.

“Then we’d just look at giving him a bit of a freshen up going into something ahead of the spring, maybe a Cleeve Hurdle or something akin to that.

“They’ll probably end up taking each other on at Newbury in that Grade Two and it will be fascinating to see who comes out on top.”

Red Risk and jockey Harry Cobden
Red Risk and jockey Harry Cobden (John Walton/PA)

Marie’s Rock will proceed from Wetherby in the direction of the top staying contests, with the big festivals at Cheltenham and Aintree pencilled in for the spring.

“She’s obviously got that useful weight allowance and I think she has a pull as it is on official ratings but that performance (by Red Risk) the other day was a very, very good performance,” Palin said.

“We’ve just got Red Risk figured out and Marie’s Rock is in great form. Her campaign kind of plans itself; Newbury, Ascot, Cheltenham for the Cleeve, Cheltenham for the Stayers’ and Aintree again.”

Middleham Park making more travel plans for Brave Emperor

Brave Emperor could eventually travel even further afield in search of more Group-class glory after his conclusive victory in the Premio Vittorio Di Capua at San Siro.

The Archie Watson-trained gelding is incredibly well-travelled and has had a remarkable season, winning six times in four different countries.

He has scored three times at Group Three level, taking the Dr Busch-Memorial at Krefeld, the Prix Daphnis at Deauville and the Grosser Preis der Landeshauptstadt Dusseldorf.

He then stepped up to Group Two level in Italy at San Siro on Sunday and again did Middleham Park Racing proud when striding to a four-length win under usual pilot Luke Morris.

“You wouldn’t quite believe the season he’s had. We’ve kept on pitching him in and giving him another inch of rein and he’s just kept on giving and kept on winning,” said Tom Palin of the ownership group.

“Any task Archie seemed to throw at him, he’s just been able to respond, he is an absolute dude of a horse. We’ve sent him to Sweden, France, Germany, Italy, he doesn’t know how to run a bad race. He’s a credit to everyone around him – and more importantly to himself.

“Every time he goes racing, Luke keeps getting off and saying ‘he’s feeling faster’, he’s just improving all the time. Luke got off him this time in Italy and said ‘he’s really starting to feel like a good horse now’.

“Usually with good horses you get the impression that they’re good quite quickly, but this horse is a bit quirky in that he’s getting better as he goes along. The more we run him, the better he’s getting.”

Brave Emperor will have a break now and return to action next year with some targets in the Middle East and Hong Kong to get him started before the domestic campaign.

Palin said: “He deserves a bit of a break now, then we’ll look at a Group Two out in Qatar and we’ll see if Hong Kong might like him, that’s an invite only so we’ll see if they’re interested in having him run over there.

“Maybe we could look at the Godolphin Dirt Mile, that’s on World Cup night, then maybe something like the Lockinge. He’s got Group Two penalties now, and Group Three penalties, so he is going to have to roll some big boy dice. He’s probably going to be (rated) 113 or 114 next Tuesday, so he deserves a crack at something like that.

“He just loves it, wherever he goes he takes it in his stride and runs his race. I’ve run out of superlatives to describe him to the owners!

“He is so much fun and such a cool horse to manage because we don’t have to. Archie picks the races, I tell the owners where they’re going, they travel out there, he travels on the box and then he just seems to win! He’s a manager’s dream and an owner’s dream.”

‘Precarious weather watch’ in prospect for connections of Shouldvebeenaring

Shouldvebeenaring’s owners were delighted after they saw their late entry for the Prix de la Foret pay off with a gallant run at ParisLongchamp, but they could now face a similar conundrum with regards to Qipco British Champions Day.

The Richard Hannon-trained grey was supplemented for the French Group One after the ground, which is usually soft in Paris in autumn, turned out to be rather quicker than expected.

Ridden by Sean Levey, the colt held his own at the level once again, finishing third behind Kelina and Kinross in a field of 14 to justify the decision to add him to the line-up.

“Vindicated and relief are the two words that spring to mind! Spending €25,000 to go in comes with a little bit of pressure, so to see him run so well, we were absolutely thrilled,” said Tim Palin of owners Middleham Park Racing.

“Every day as the week went on it was drying up and then they were breaking track records, we knew it would play into his hands because he is best on the top of the ground.

“It was a great ride from Sean and there was a thrilling moment there when you thought he was coming to win, but of course the two class acts were just a length or two in front of him.

“For all that we got there, we couldn’t quite go past but to even finish in the same postcode as Kinross is a real feather in our horse’s cap, a real testament to his tenacity and his durability.

“He’s danced pretty much every dance this year, there’s only one month that he’s not run in this year.

“I think one of the beauties of him is the way that he switches off in his races and the way that Sean rides, it just means that he only ever has to sprint for two furlongs in his races. He’s not a make-all, eyeballs-out horse who is on the speed and in the thick of it from start to finish.”

The gamble also paid off financially as his prize-money well exceeded his supplementary fee, and similar calculations could now justify another late entry – this time for the British Champions Sprint Stakes at Ascot.

Again the ground will prove pivotal with quick going preferred, meaning connections will keep a keen eye on the weather forecast as they weigh-up the Ascot race with the Challenge Stakes at Newmarket just over a week beforehand.

Palin said: “There’s a couple of options – he is in the Challenge Stakes, a week on Friday, the Group Two, that’s seven furlongs at Newmarket and he’d probably go there with a favourite’s chance. We’ll have to talk to Richard and Sean and give him a breeze next week to see if he’s over his exertions.

“That would be on the agenda, but that’s only about eight days before the Champions Sprint at Ascot. We’d need to look at the weather forecast to see whether we’d dare wait another week for the rain not to arrive or the heavens not to open.

“He’s not in there, realistically because at the time of entry you’re assuming it’s going to be soft or heavy ground. A bit like the Foret, he was never in that, we took the decision to wait and supplement and of course it paid off.

Shouldvebeenaring was a winner at Newmarket back in May
Shouldvebeenaring was a winner at Newmarket back in May (David Davies/PA)

“Being second at Haydock in the Sprint Cup meant that he earned £91,000, so that gave us a little bit of financial wiggle room to be able to play the supplementary game. It cost €25,000 to go in the other day and he earned €40,000, so there’s plenty of money in the kitty if we need to supplement for that.

“The weather gods might shine on us, literally, in that week coming up to it but we’ll have to make a decision before we truly know – declarations for the Challenge Stakes will be on the Wednesday and it’s another 10 days to the Champions Sprint.

“It’s going to be a precarious weather watch to see which way we go.”

Overseas options for Deauville victor Brave Emperor

A trip to Paris on Arc weekend and an appearance at the Breeders’ Cup are among the exciting options under consideration for Brave Emperor following his latest success in France on Sunday.

It has been quite the rise through the ranks for the Archie Watson-trained three-year-old, who began his campaign with a runner-up finish at Southwell in late January.

He had since won a Listed race at Cagnes-Sur-Mer, a conditions prize at Kempton, a Group Three in Germany and finished third in a Group Three in Sweden prior to his latest trip across the Channel.

Brave Emperor looked to face the toughest test of his career in the Group Three Prix Daphnis, but rose to the challenge under a power-packed ride from Luke Morris, leaving members of the Middleham Park Racing syndicate that own him eyeing loftier targets.

“It was a great piece of placement again from Archie. He’s placed him to perfection all season and I think Luke rode him to perfection as well,” said Middleham Park racing manager Tom Palin.

“You still need the horse to be able to do it, of course. It’s one thing finding these opportunities, but you’re still relying on a willing partner underneath you and this horse is definitely brave by name, brave by nature.

“He had to carry a 3lb penalty on Sunday, but he loves his racing and thrives on it. We’ve not really spared him, but he travels well and he’s just an absolute dude of a horse and a bit of a legend.

“There’s a small cohort of owners who follow him around. They’ve been to Sweden, they’ve been to Germany and they’ve been to France twice. He’s well supported wherever he goes and has a bit of a cult following here at Middleham Park.”

While plans for Brave Emperor’s next run remain fluid, Palin views the Prix Daniel Wildenstein – a Group Two run at ParisLongchamp in early October – as a likely objective for the autumn.

He added: “We’re probably going to have to start looking at bigger, sexier and dare I say scarier things with him going forward, but he’s fully entitled to now.

“The Wildenstein would be lovely and a very sensible target and we could look at the Prix du Moulin before then. I know that’s a Group One, but you are into Group Two/Group One territory now.

“We love to get our owners over for the Arc meeting if we can, it’s a meeting that’s served us well in the past, and maybe we’ll take in the Moulin on the way. It’s that or a Group Two in Germany, I think.

“I quite like the idea of the Wildenstein and then who knows, it could be onto the Breeders’ Cup. Archie and I have briefly mentioned that, but let’s see.

“Of course he’s going to have to improve, but that attitude he possesses is a huge asset, so why not give him a spin in those kind of races? You’re probably pitching him in for places, but who knows?”

Middleham Park keen for another crack at Little Big Bear with Shouldvebeenaring

Middleham Park Racing are not shying away from a sprint rematch at Royal Ascot between Shouldvebeenaring and Little Big Bear.

The two horses contested the Sandy Lane at Haydock when last seen, with Little Big Bear prevailing as the even-money favourite with Shouldvebeenaring giving him a run for his money a length and a quarter back in second.

Having started at 11-1 for Richard Hannon and Sean Levey, the runner-up ran a mighty race and continued what is proving to be an incredibly fruitful season for him.

Though his Haydock performance was something of a pleasant surprise for the grey’s owners, Hannon was less shocked as the colt had impressed him in his work beforehand.

“It did catch us a little bit by surprise but we felt he warranted his place in the race, he deserved his shot at the big time,” said Tim Palin of Middleham Park.

Shouldvebeenaring (left) at Newmarket
Shouldvebeenaring (left) at Newmarket (David Davies/PA)

“He’d been crashing around in Listed races and doing that particularly well and we just thought we’d pop his head above the parapet and see where he ended up.

“He did it in spades, didn’t he? He stepped up to the plate in spades.

“I was pleasantly surprised, to get so close to the champion two-year-old is an immense achievement for a £40,000 yearling that we bought from Goffs UK.

“Richard had said to me on the Tuesday after his final piece of work, ‘Tim, this horse is better than ever. He’s never done what he’s just done there in front of me’.

“It probably wasn’t as much as a surprise to Richard that he was able to step up because he’s seen it in front of his very eyes.”

Shouldvebeenaring is now pencilled in for the Commonwealth Cup, a Group One sprint where he will likely cross paths with Aidan O’Brien’s Little Big Bear again.

Palin said: “It’s great to be mixing it in these lofty places, where do we go now? There’s some talk about the Jersey, but Sean (Levey) did say that he wouldn’t mind another go at the winner when he got off.

“That’s what we may well do, if he’s (Little Big Bear) the 13-8 favourite and we’re just a couple of lengths off him then he would probably deserve a place in the Commonwealth Cup.

“He’d have to mix it with even more blue-blooded types and time will tell but he does deserve it, a stiff six furlongs is probably Shouldvebeenaring playing at home.

“With a nice patient ride we’ll see where we end up and if we could nick a place, that’d be great. If he did happen to turn it around with the winner then it’s a stallion-making opportunity.”

A £40,000 purchase, Shouldvebeenaring has earned over £250,000 in prize money already and is quickly becoming a popular horse as his ability is matched by his consistency.

“He wears his heart on his sleeve, he has the heart of a lion and puts so much effort into all of his races, even the days he’s been beaten,” said Palin.

“He still has that enthusiasm and he’s still improving, he’s not the biggest, he’s a bit of a pony.

“His diminutive stature is certainly belied by his heart and tenacity, he’d run through a brick wall for you, he’s a superstar.”

Dear My Friend to break new ground for Middleham Park in Derby

Middleham Park Racing will have their first Betfred Derby runner as Dear My Friend bids to do his owners proud this weekend.

The chestnut is one of 16 possibles for the Epsom Classic on Saturday and will mark a significant milestone when he carries the syndicate’s familiar pale blue and orange silks in the revered Group One.

The colt’s route to the Derby included the Dante at York earlier in the month, an established trial in which he finished eighth, and a win in the Listed Burradon Stakes on Newcastle’s all-weather track in early April.

Those efforts, added to two successes and a handful of Listed and Group performances as a juvenile, have left him on a rating of 104 ahead of the Derby – for which he is currently a 100-1 shot for trainer Charlie Johnston.

“It’s our first ever runner in the race, we’re going into it with eyes wide open,” said Mike Prince of Middleham Park.

“He was well beaten in the Dante but we think the step up in trip will suit him. There’ll be a few horses in the race who don’t say, there’ll be a few horses in the race who don’t handle the track and there’ll be a few horses in the race who don’t handle the occasion – hopefully we’ll be there trying to pick up some of the pieces.

“He’ll need to take a step up in his form, he’s a notch below the favourites at the moment but we’re hoping that step up in trip will lead to some improvement from him. He’s got a lovely, long stride and a slow cadence.”

Though likely to be an outsider with the market favouring Group winners such as Auguste Rodin and Derby Trial winner Military Order, it is not unheard of that a horse at a big price should go well and there are recent examples in Hoo Ya Mal, who was second at 150-1 last year, and 50-1 chance Mojo Star who came second the year before.

Dear My Friend (right) winning the Burradon Stakes at Newcastle
Dear My Friend (right) winning the Burradon Stakes at Newcastle (Richard Sellers/PA)

Prince said: “There have been some horses at big prices making up the placings in recent years, Hoo Ya Mal was 150-1 and I think the third and fourth that year were big enough prices (Westover at 25-1 and Masekela at 66-1).

“That’s one of the things we said to the owners when were deciding to enter, there’s good place money down to sixth and they’re all delighted that we’re rolling the dice.

“He is rated 104 so he is going there on his merits, it’s a race with a great sense of tradition and there’ll certainly be a good contingent there to support him and enjoy the occasion.”

Ziggy’s Phoenix rises to Chester challenge for Middleham one-two

Ziggy’s Phoenix was away well and made every yard of the running to lead home a Middleham Park Racing one-two in the CAA Stellar Lily Agnes Conditions Stakes at Chester.

The Richard Hannon-trained filly won from the front at Ripon when breaking her duck on her second start and it was a similar story sent off the 9-4 favourite on the Roodee.

Handed a plum draw in stall one, the daughter of Kodiac pinged the gates in the hands of Ryan Moore, and having burned off Balon D’Or – who matched the winner stride for stride until the home straight – held on gamely when fellow Middleham Park runner Ziggy’s Dream, began to fly in the closing stages.

In the aftermath she was handed a quote of 14-1 by both Paddy Power and Betfair for the Queen Mary Stakes over the same five-furlong trip at Royal Ascot.

Middleham Park’s Mike Prince said: “Ziggy’s Phoenix was smart from the stalls, she’s an uncomplicated filly with plenty of speed and just bossed it from the front really.

“Interestingly, Ziggy’s Dream might be the horse to take form the race as she missed it (the break) and finished like a train. If you ran the race again would the result be different? It might well be.

“We think they’re both black-type fillies so that’s what we’d be planning with them next.

“There’s the National Stakes at Sandown and there’s a Listed race at Vichy as well. It will probably be one of those, maybe the National Stakes for Ziggy’s Phoenix.

“I’m sure Tim (Palin, syndicate manager) will be plotting with Richard and plotting with Alice (Haynes, trainer of Ziggy’s Dream) where to go. We might keep them apart next time and they might come together again at Royal Ascot.”

Kentucky Derby adventure off the agenda for Brave Emperor

Archie Watson’s Brave Emperor has been confirmed as set for travelling duty – but will stay closer to home rather than bid for Kentucky Derby glory.

The three-year-old had earned a spot in the ‘Run for the Roses’ through the European qualifying system, but having weighed up all the pros and cons, owners Middleham Park Racing have decided he will be better off in a Group Three in Germany.

Should his progress continue he will then have some lofty targets on the domestic front, including likely at Royal Ascot.

“We won’t be going there on this occasion, unfortunately,” said Middleham Park’s Tom Palin.

“We ran the numbers and as much as it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it would wipe out all of his prize-money and while you shouldn’t really try to make sense of this game, we did this time.

“He is on his travels, he’s going to go to Germany for a Group Three on April 28 (Krefeld, Dr Busch Memorial), that’s where he’ll run next.

“He’s got no penalties. He has won a Listed race but he’s picked up novices, handicaps and conditions races so for a serial winner like him he doesn’t have penalties so we can pick and choose.

“He should be rocking up at all the big meetings, Royal Ascot, Goodwood, so we’ll hopefully have a good summer with him.

“Trip-wise, 10 furlongs might be a question mark, but certainly nine furlongs we are of the opinion is no problem, it is almost nine furlongs in Germany and we’re confident about that.

“I can’t see why he wouldn’t see 10 out in the future. We could maybe think about something like the Hampton Court at Ascot.”

Shouldvebeenaring bidding to add further lustre to money-spinning CV

Shouldvebeenaring goes in search of a fifth career success in the talkSPORT All-Weather 3 Year Old Championships Conditions Stakes, as enterprising owners Middleham Park Racing attempt to land a telling blow on All-Weather Championships Finals Day.

The Havana Grey colt found the scoresheet on three occasions as a juvenile and having picked up a £122,950 pay cheque when striking in a valuable sales race at York, soon scooped Listed honours at Ripon.

Respectable efforts in the Mill Reef and then back on the Knavesmire over seven furlongs followed before attentions turned to securing qualification for this £150,000 contest at Newcastle – something he achieved when winning at Southwell in January.

Shouldvebeenaring after winning at Ripon
Shouldvebeenaring after winning at Ripon (PA)

“Shouldvebeenaring looks like going off favourite and it looks like a race that is tailor-made for him on a track which suits being held up,” said Tom Palin of Middleham Park.

“I can see him running a similar race as to when he won the Goffs sales race, weaving through. I think he’s nearly top-rated and he looks to have a good chance, it’s been his target all winter.”

Julie Camacho’s Shaquille heads to Gosforth Park having won three of his four career starts and his only disappointment coming in the Acomb Stakes last summer.

Connections have kept the son of Charm Spirit fresh for a crack at this valuable six-furlong contest and are confident he can make his presence felt.

“We’ve been pleased with him,” said Steve Brown, assistant trainer and husband of Camacho.

“He quite purposely had a break after Wolverhampton which was always the intention. He’s trained well over the winter and has progressed again physically – he’s a nice, big, strong colt.

“He went to Newcastle last week to stretch his legs and have a lie of the land and have a breeze up the track.

“We’re looking forward to it, he’s a few pounds wrong with a few of the horses at the weights, but we still feel he is progressive and we’re interested to see if he can improve further.

“It will tell us which direction we should be going in and we still have an interest in going up in trip at some point – it’s on the agenda. But the stiff six is a good starting point, so we will see how it goes and go from there.

George Boughey is double-handed with recent Listed winner Perdika and Kempton scorer Danger Alert, while Kevin Ryan’s Hello Queen has won both starts so far this term, tasting success over course and distance last month.

Another recent winner in the line-up is Andrew Balding’s Desert Cop, who made huge strides when runner-up on his second start before thriving when dropped back to six furlongs, getting off the mark at the third attempt.

The speedily-bred son of Oasis Dream showed plenty of pace to put the race to bed on that occasion and David Bowe, racing manager for the Oasis Dream gelding’s owner Jeff Smith believes his blistering turn of foot could prove crucial once again.

He said: “He has progressed and I would say the six furlongs would suit him down to the ground, especially on his pedigree.

“His last run was impressive in the way he finished out his race and he looks to have plenty of speed. We’ve been really encouraged by him at home and his home work has been excellent.

“He’s a lovely horse with a very speedy pedigree and we’re hoping the six will be ideal for him.”

New Definition disappointed over a mile at Chelmsford last weekend, but trainer James Tate is prepared to put a line through that effort as he drops the otherwise consistent son of Invincible Spirit back down to six furlongs.

He said: “He seemed to improve for running a sharp seven at Lingfield twice, but the mile at Chelmsford was a disaster because he just got stuck wide all the way round.

“We’re backing him up quickly I know, but this is a stiff six at Newcastle and if Chelmsford hasn’t taken anything out of him hopefully he will be on the premises.

“He’s a very tough type and seems to take his racing well.”

Meanwhile Group One-winning jockey Robert Havlin is looking forward to partnering The X O for the first time.

Jockey Robert Havlin will partner John Ryan's The X O in the talkSPORT All-Weather 3 Year Old Championships Conditions Stakes
Jockey Robert Havlin will partner John Ryan’s The X O in the talkSPORT All-Weather 3 Year Old Championships Conditions Stakes (Mike Egerton/PA)

Although the outsider of the field, John Ryan’s colt has racked up plenty of experience in the early part of 2023, winning two of his five starts since the turn of the year.

“I rode work on The X O on Tuesday and he gave me a nice feel,” said Havlin.

“I watched some of his races back and, although last time was messy, his performances at Southwell were quite impressive.

“I think the straight track at Newcastle will play to his strengths and, even though he has a bit to find on ratings, connections are hoping for a big run.”

The field is complete by Mick Appleby’s Michaela’s Boy, who was disappointing in France last month but brings course form to the table, and Grant Tuer’s versatile Glorious Angel.

Kentucky Derby not yet out of the question for Brave Emperor

Connections of Brave Emperor have still not totally discounted heading Stateside for the Kentucky Derby.

The Archie Watson-trained gelding won at Kempton to earn valuable points towards qualifying for the ‘Run for the Roses’ at Churchill Downs and was second in a £100,000 race at Chelmsford on Saturday evening which also carried points.

While his syndicate of owners are excited about the possibility of the challenge, the unsubsidised cost of getting to America and back is something of a stumbling block.

Tom Palin, who manages the Middleham Park Racing syndicate which owns Brave Emperor, said: “We’re still in discussions with the owners, it’s not going to be cheap. Probably about £120/130,000 to get there and back on our own which will burn through all of his prize-money and then some.

“We just need to have a grown up conversation with the owners. They provide incentives to travel to the Breeders’ Cup, but maybe the Kentucky Derby is such a standalone event they feel they don’t need to as everyone wants to run in it.

“He’s brave, he grinds and he gallops. I was really taken with how he got his elbows out and got down and dirty at Chelmsford as it was a messy race.

“You never know how they will transfer their form to dirt or adapt to American racing, but he does have a lot of the right credentials. You’d go there hopeful he could handle it but definitely not confident.

“It’s something we would love to do, but it’s just if we can make sense of the numbers. Then again, horse racing is not really an industry where one should try and make too much sense of it.”

‘No firm decision’ as connections of Marie’s Rock weigh up Festival choice

Connections of Marie’s Rock are still no nearer to determining whether she will defend her Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle or instead attempt to land the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham next week.

The Nicky Henderson-trained eight-year-old made a sparkling return to action, winning the Relkeel Hurdle on New Year’s Day, having not run since taking a second successive Grade One victory in the Mares’ Champion Hurdle at Punchestown last April.

The Middleham Park Racing-owned mare will be seeking a fifth consecutive victory regardless of which race she contests.

She is a general 3-1 joint second-favourite behind Honeysuckle for the two-and-a-half-mile Mares’ Hurdle on Tuesday and a general 7-2 second-favourite for Thursday’s three-mile Stayers’ Hurdle.

Middleham Park racing manager Tom Palin said the weather will play a major part in their decision.

He said: “There are no firm plans, I’m afraid. I know Nicky is championing the Stayers’ but in our conversations, there isn’t a firm decision.

“He wouldn’t be solely in the Stayers’ camp, nor am I solely in the Mares’ camp.

“I think I’d be right in saying neither of us would want to try her over three miles on the testing course at Cheltenham in soft ground.

“We do need to see just what the weather does and that is obviously very unsettled at the moment.”

Blazing Khal has headed the Stayers’ Hurdle market since winning the Boyne Hurdle at Navan last month, on his first start in 14 months.

However, he subsequently suffered a setback and trainer Charles Byrne will give him a final piece of work on Friday before determining whether or not he will take his chance.

“Blazing Khal has a date with destiny tomorrow by all accounts, so that is something to factor in,” added Palin.

“If the Stayers’ Hurdle favourite isn’t in the race tomorrow afternoon, that is something sizable to take in. There is nothing set in stone.

“We will probably make the decision at 9.50am on Sunday. If there hadn’t been any rain around and Blazing Khal was out, I would say that would have a very, very big swing on where we go, I would imagine.

“But it doesn’t look like it will be guaranteed good ground at this point.”

Henderson also has the JP McManus-owned Epatante – who was overturned by Marie’s Rock when odds-on favourite at Punchestown – entered in the Mares’ Hurdle.

Potentially the race registered at the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle is one the most competitive events of the four-day meeting.

Nicky Henderson also has Epatante in the Mares' Hurdle
Nicky Henderson also has Epatante in the Mares’ Hurdle (David Davies/PA)

Palin added: “If it is soft ground, like it is probably going to be on Tuesday, the extra stamina that we might have in a Stayers’ will surely come to the fore in the Mares’.

“Soft ground, up that hill, is Epatante guaranteed to get it in soft ground? That is a question.

“Lest we forget, we are 1-0 against her, having beaten her at Punchestown.

“It could be a mouthwatering race. The winners of the last three Champion Hurdles taking each other on, and you put in there Marie’s Rock, who is no slouch and is defending champion, and arguably the best filly in training this side of the Irish Sea, then chuck in young pretenders like Love Envoi, Brandy Love and Theatre Glory, and it really is the race of the meeting!”