Owner John Dance is banking on a return to racing closer to home to spark Sam Maximus back to his best form in the Dubai Duty Free Mill Reef Stakes.
The Tom Dascombe-trained juvenile won on his debut at Haydock and went on to be beaten only half a length by Lusail in the July Stakes at Newmarket, just behind Asymmetric and in front of Ebro River.
He has failed to reproduce that form in two runs since in France and Ireland, without being disgraced, but Dance feel less travelling could be in his favour on Saturday.
“Our intention is to run him,” he said.
“We flirted with dropping him back to five furlongs, because he hasn’t really seen out his last two races.
“In France, he just didn’t see it out because of the soft ground, while in Ireland he had no real excuse. The only thing we could think was that he didn’t take to travelling abroad, so we want to give him another shot at six furlongs in this country.
“Newbury should suit him – he ran well at Haydock, and they’re not dissimilar. This will possibly be his last run of the season, because we want to try and look after him and see if he can improve as a three-year-old. Our priority is to see a return to form.”
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Trainer Ed Bethell reports Fearby in fine shape for the Dubai Duty Free Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury.
A Listed winner at Sandown earlier in the season, Fearby has subsequently finished second in the Molecomb and fourth in the Gimcrack.
“After the Gimcrack, this looked the next logical target really,” said Bethell.
“We could have gone to France but we thought we’d stick around in England.
“It’s going to be a competitive race, as you’d imagine for a Group Two. But he’s going there in good form after a little freshen-up after York, and I’m really looking forward to it.
“I would imagine he’d be one of the more fancied runners, and he’s in very good order.”
Dhabab, last seen finishing third to National Stakes winner Native Trail, also features among 17 possibles on Saturday.
John and Thady Gosden’s youngster was a debut winner at Leicester before claiming sixth in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Clive Cox has three contenders at this stage in Crazyland, Dark Swansong and Wings Of War, while Michael O’Callaghan could once again bring Twilight Jet over from Ireland after solid runs in the Gimcrack and Champagne Stakes.
Gis A Sub, Gubbass and Khunan bring top form to the table – while Hugo Palmer has supplemented Hierarchy, after he was third in the Sirenia Stakes.
The Dubai Duty Free Legacy Cup, previously known as the Arc Trial, sees William Haggas’ Addeybb top 12 entries.
On this weekend last year he won the Doonside Cup at Ayr, and he has also been entered in that same race once more, with Haggas no doubt aiming him at the most suitable going.
Haggas has two more contenders in Al Aasy, gelded since last seen, and Ilaraab, a huge disappointment when favourite for the Ebor.
Derby also-ran John Leeper has the same two options as Addeybb – and Andrew Balding has entered Bangkok, Foxes Tales and Fox Tal.
Solid Stone and Star Safari are also possibles – while in the Dubai International Airport World Trophy Stakes, Haggas’ Portland winner Hurricane Ivor could be out again quickly.
Charlie Hills’ Khaadem, another winner at the St Leger meeting, Balding’s King’s Lynn and Tis Marvellous, the Beverley Bullet winner, are among 11 entries.
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Mill Reef was described as the “most perfect specimen of a small horse” by his trainer Ian Balding – and he developed into a giant of thoroughbred racing.
Standing 15.2 as a two-year-old in 1970, Mill Reef went on not only to land the Epsom Derby the following season but won a host of other major races too, including the Coral-Eclipse, King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Such were his achievements that he is immortalised with a life-size statue at Park House Stables at Kingsclere.
The small but exquisite colt, with a mahogany coat, came to occupy a special place in the hearts of the public as he drew on his courage to win his greatest battle when, at the age of four, he suffered a life-threatening injury in a routine gallop at home.
The story of Mill Reef, named after a stretch of coastline in the West Indies, began in the United States, where he was bred. It soon transferred across the Atlantic as his owner, the American millionaire philanthropist Paul Mellon, adored the English racing scene.
Under the tutelage of Balding – whose son Andrew has leading claims this year through Chester Vase winner Youth Spirit – the youngster was never less than sensational right from the start, overturning 2-9 favourite Fireside Chat by four lengths on his Salisbury debut before winning the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot by eight lengths.
Although he was beaten a short head by My Swallow in the Prix Robert Papin at Maisons-Laffitte, after a debilitating journey and a bad draw, the chance of redemption arrived in the Gimcrack at York – for which Mellon flew in from the States to watch him for the first time.
Alas, it rained so heavily on the Knavesmire that Balding wanted to withdraw his potential superstar – but the owner assured his trainer everything would be fine. He was right as Mill Reef carried the familiar black and gold colours to a staggering 10-length victory. “He was the best two-year-old I had ever seen,” said the trainer.
There were two more victories before that stellar campaign ended, including a four-length success in the Dewhurst at Newmarket.
The three top two-year-olds of 1970, Mill Reef, My Swallow and Brigadier Gerard clashed in the 2000 Guineas, the field for which was one of the finest ever assembled. It was won by the peerless miler Brigadier Gerard, with Mill Reef in second and My Swallow third.
Balding admitted being shocked by the defeat. But jockey Geoff Lewis was convinced the horse would be better over further, despite his pedigree suggesting otherwise.
However, Lewis faced his own race against time to be fit to ride Mill Reef in the Derby after being injured in a fall less than two hours after the 2000 Guineas.
He won his battle and was in the saddle as Mill Reef strode to a smooth three-length victory over Linden Tree at Epsom – and he also rode the winners of the Oaks and Coronation Cup at the same meeting.
When Mill Reef went gloriously into his winter quarters, racing fans were already awaiting the promised showdown of epic proportions between him and Brigadier Gerard in the Coral-Eclipse the following season, but it was not to be.
Mill Reef sauntered to a 10-length victory in the Prix Ganay at Longchamp, but a scrambling success when the virus was on him in the Coronation Cup at Epsom proved his swansong. While being prepared for the Arc on a sunny August morning on Watership Down, a dreadful, audible crack signalled he had broken his near foreleg.
The operation to save him took more than seven hours, after which Mill Reef’s calm temperament and indomitable spirit took over. It was not long before he was able to hobble along with his leg encased in plaster, until finally he could leave Kingsclere for his new career as a stallion where he went on to sire two Derby winners of his own – Shirley Heights (1978) and Reference Point (1987).
Mill Reef still has a race named in his honour at Newbury, where he kicked off his three-year-old campaign with a four-length success in the Greenham Stakes.
The Group Two Mill Reef Stakes over six furlongs, held every September, also had an auspicious beginning under its new name when its first winner in 1972, Mon Fils, went on to win the 2000 Guineas.
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Alkumait ran out an impressive winner of the Dubai Duty Free Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury.
A quality field of eight colts went to post for the Group Two contest, with runaway Newcastle scorer Fivethousandtoone the narrow favourite at 5-2, ahead of Prix Morny third Rhythm Master at 3-1.
Beaten a length on his debut over the course and distance in July, the Marcus Tregoning-trained Alkumait looked an exciting horse in the making when winning on his second start at Goodwood, but nevertheless faced a significant step up in class on his return to Berkshire.
Drawn widest of all in stall one, the 8-1 shot was taken back by Jim Crowley after the starting stalls opened and settled at the rear of the field for much of the race.
However, he made quick headway to challenge for the lead entering the final furlong – and finished off strongly to hold Fivethousandtoone at bay by three-quarters of a length, with Rhythm Master almost three lengths further away in third.
Tregoning said of the winner: “It has been one of those nice upward curves with him. I worked him on some faster ground this week and I could see he was very good on it.
“He is not jarred and doesn’t feel the ground and he will progress and go on.”
The victory was a significant boost for the Derby-winning trainer following the enforced retirement of his stable star Mohaather last month due to injury.
He added: “I knew we had this one coming through (after Mohaather), we just had to keep him right.
“He’s stabled right next door to my house. If he moves, like Mohaather did through the night, it wakes me up, but it is worth it.”
Tregoning is keen to test Alkumait’s stamina to see if he could be a contender for next year’s 2000 Guineas over a mile.
He said: “There is a lot of speed on the dam’s side, but if we are allowed, and everybody agrees, we will try to mould him to at least get seven furlongs and then after that we will see.
“If you could get him to drop in and settle, like he did today, there is every chance he will get a little bit further. I think that is the way to go. It opens up the game plan a bit. We could always come back to six furlongs.
“He was a little bit hairy going down to the start and a couple of times during the race the wind was blowing a bit and this little horse could hear the covers rattling. It’s just a thing he has to get used to
“He couldn’t have been more smooth through the race. He came from last to move up swiftly and he was going away at the end. I think he is pretty useful.
“When I saw him get loose one day was when I first thought he was good. He did injure one of my staff quite badly. He is just well made and has the same power down the saddle that Mohaather did – he is very similar.
“Sheikh Hamdan may want to put him away after today, but I’d be keen to run him in Group One company before the end of the season if there is a suitable race.”
John Dance has more reason than most to be excited ahead of the Dubai Duty Free Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury on Saturday.
The owner of the top-class racemare Laurens will not only see his colours carried by the hugely-promising Rhythm Master in the Group Two contest, but he also bred another leading contender in the unbeaten Bahrain Pride.
The Richard Fahey-trained Rhythm Master was a 16-1 winner on his debut at Haydock, but proved that performance was no fluke by finishing an excellent third behind a couple of Royal Ascot winners in Campanelle and Nando Parrado in the Group One Prix Morny at Deauville last month.
Dance said: “We’ve been delighted with Rhythm Master and I’m very much looking forward to the race on Saturday.
“I can’t say Richard was surprised to see him win at Haydock, but it wasn’t until after the race that I fully cottoned on. Looking back now he’d made some comments beforehand that suggested he thought he was pretty good, but it didn’t really register with me.
“He won really nicely and the form worked out quite well, which is why Richard decided to pitch him in the Group One at Deauville.
“He was very green, particularly in the preliminaries. I don’t think he could believe he could see thousands of people, as there was obviously no crowd at Haydock – it was very much like the first day at school for him.
“I think the soft ground was a bit of a a shock as well, so for him to run as well as he did was very encouraging and also left the impression that there’s hopefully more to come.”
A son of Kodiac out of Life Of Pi, Bahrain Pride was bred by Dance’s Salcey Forest Stud before being sold at the Tattersalls December Foal Sale for 125,000 guineas. He was subsequently bought at the breeze-ups in June of this year by owners KHK Racing Ltd for 300,000 guineas.
A winner on his racecourse debut at Windsor in mid-August, he successfully graduated to Listed class with victory in the Ripon Champion Two Yrs Old Trophy a fortnight later.
Dance added: “I really hope he finishes second, for obvious reasons.
“If he finishes in front of us, he better win!”
Ed Crisford expects Bahrain Pride to put up a staunch defence of his unbeaten record.
Crisford, who trains the juvenile in partnership with his father Simon, said: “This has been the plan for him since Ripon. He’s in great form and deserves a crack at a Group Two.
“It does look a very strong race – a Group Two is always going to be tough. But our fellow has done nothing wrong, I think he’s improving with racing and he deserves a crack at a higher grade now.
“This looks a very good option for him.”
Andrew Balding’s Fivethousandtoone was runner-up to Bahrain Pride at Windsor and renews rivalry off the back of a dominant display at Newcastle a little over a fortnight ago.
“Fivethousandtoone won well at Newcastle and took the step forward we hoped he would after finishing second at Windsor,” said Balding.
“He is a horse that I think a lot of, but this is a competitive race in a much tougher grade.
“He has looked very good at home and his work has been impressive. Hopefully he can step forward again.”
The highest-rated runner is the Archie Watson-trained Devilwala. The Haydock novice winner was last seen filling the runner-up spot behind Minzaal in the Gimcrack Stakes at York.
His jockey Rossa Ryan is confident he can make his presence felt, saying: “It was a very good performance in the Gimcrack considering he was the only horse in the race going into it on the back of one run.
“He has come on again. I sat on him last week and he felt very good.
“The drying ground should be a big help to him as he wasn’t a massive fan of the soft ground at York.
“It won’t be a pushover as it is a Mill Reef, but I do think he is overpriced on what he has done in what I think was a very good Gimcrack.
“I would like to think there is still much more to come from this horse.”
Line Of Departure completed a hat-trick for Roger Varian in a valuable sales race at Doncaster last week and is swiftly stepped up to Pattern class, while Mick Channon will be hoping his Group Three winner Cairn Gorm can bounce back from a below-par effort in the Morny.
Alkumait (Marcus Tregoning) and First Edition (Clive Cox) complete the field.
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