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Walker has maximum faith in Sprint Cup favourite Starman

Ed Walker is confident Starman will “get the job done” in Saturday’s Betfair Sprint Cup at Haydock.

The four-year-old has won two of his three starts so far this term and renews rivalry with a handful of opponents left trailing in his wake when he landed the July Cup at Newmarket.

Starman had the likes of Creative Force and Glen Shiel in behind at Headquarters in July, and Walker thinks his stable star is capable of confirming that form.

He said: “It looks a great opportunity for him. You can never be confident going into any race as anything can happen with horses, but you would think in similar form, on a track that would suit him better, on ground that we know he loves, he hopefully will get the job done.

“I think he’s the best horse in the race and he’s in the same form he was in at Newmarket and hopefully he will prove that.”

Walker admits he did not expect to be running Starman on Merseyside, but the recent spell of dry weather means conditions should be ideal for the fast-ground lover.

He said: “We’re quite surprised to be here really. We always wanted to come to the Sprint Cup, but historically, we thought it would be unlikely with his preference for faster ground.

“It’s a real bonus to be going into it with conditions looking like being in his favour.”

Starman with connections after winning the July Cup
Starman with connections after winning the July Cup (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Starman was last seen when coming home third in the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville last month, one of only two defeats – both with cut in the ground – in his seven-race career.

Walker said: “He still ran a massive race and ran better than on really heavy ground on Champions Day last year. It was that proper stamina-testing ground – soft on the Saturday and then drying quite quickly.

“He coped with it, but I think his stamina was just really tested in those conditions and with the extra half-furlong.”

Walker thinks there is a “good chance” Starman will stay in training next seasons and expects this weekend’s race to help determine if the Dutch Art colt will be sent on his travels before the end of the year.

He added: “We’ve bandied around various ideas without having a real standout race.

“We’re obviously thrilled to have this race as a bonus we didn’t think we might have and we just thought we will get this out of the way and see.

“The Breeders’ Cup is probably not an option this year really, unless we go five furlongs on grass or six furlongs on dirt or a mile – none of which really jump out as being ideal.

“Then you’ve got Hong Kong, but Covid is making everything so uncertain and difficult. We just don’t really know.

“The Everest (in Australia) is getting a bit close now and I think we felt that would be an option if we weren’t going to Haydock.

“It’s a bit of an unknown, we thought let’s get Haydock out of the way, see how he goes and go from there.”

Creative Force winning at Newmarket
Creative Force winning at Newmarket (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The horse rated the biggest threat to Starman by bookmakers is the Charlie Appleby-trained Creative Force, who progressed from handicapper to Pattern-race performer by winning his first four starts of the season.

The Dubawi gelding has since finished two lengths behind Starman when fifth in the July Cup and second in Goodwood’s Lennox Stakes.

“We have been very pleased with Creative Force’s preparation. We thought it was a very respectable first run at this level in the July Cup, when he learned plenty about sprinting, and we are hoping that a more polished performer will be turning up here,” Appleby told www.godolphin.com.

“James Doyle felt that he rode like a sprinter in the Lennox Stakes. He hit the lids that day, was up in the van the whole way and possibly did a bit too much early on, so the return to six furlongs should suit.”

One place behind Creative Force in the July Cup was Archie Watson’s Glen Shiel.

The seven-year-old memorably provided jockey Hollie Doyle with a first Group One success on Champions Day at Ascot in October, but has been unable to add to that tally so far in 2021 – most recently finishing down the field in the Prix Maurice de Gheest.

Cosmo Charlton, head racing manager for owners Hambleton Racing, said: “He’s been a real success story – possibly the best in-training purchase in the last few years, I would have thought, with what he’s achieved for us already.

“He’s run so many good races, and we’re looking forward to running in another good one on Saturday.”

Hollie Doyle after the victory of Glen Shiel at Ascot
Hollie Doyle after the victory of Glen Shiel at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Reflecting on his most recent performance in France, Charlton added: “We’re not completely sure – I think drawn down the middle probably didn’t help. It can play a big part at Deauville, how races pan out, and it looked like a bit of a nightmare position.

“Obviously he travelled over as well, long journey, (and) he’d had two hard races as well – at Newmarket and Ascot. Maybe it was a combination of all that – and he didn’t quite feel himself, Hollie said, and he came back a bit tired.

“He’s really freshened well (since then), and he’s in great form.

“His better form is on slower ground, but he can handle it quicker – as he showed at Newmarket.

“If there was rain around, we’d be more confident. Starman is going to be hard to beat on the ground, but he should run really well anyway.”

Happy Romance has been a real money-spinner for her owners, with her six wins including a couple of valuable sales race victories and two Group Three triumphs.

Trainer Richard Hannon is confident she can make her mark at the highest level.

He said: “She’s in great form and we’ve picked this race out since she won at Newbury.

“The owners are keen to go there and I’m hopeful she’ll win a Group One next year if she doesn’t this year.”

Gustavus Weston needs rain for Sprint Cup bid

Ground conditions will dictate whether Gustavus Weston bids to become a rare Irish-trained winner of the Betfair Sprint Cup at Haydock.

Tom Hogan’s stable stalwart Gordon Lord Byron was the first Irish raider to land the Group One contest since Abergwaun 41 years earlier when striking gold in 2013 – and the race has been dominated by the British ever since.

Gustavus Weston is a 9-1 shot with the race sponsors for Saturday’s showpiece, having won both the Group Two Greenlands Stakes and the Group Three Phoenix Sprint Stakes at the Curragh this season.

But trainer Joe Murphy has warned he will line up on Merseyside only if there is some ease underfoot.

He said: “We won’t be running if there is any ‘firm’ in the ground.

“They’re watering the inside track and they’re not watering the straight track. We just wouldn’t want it firm – and my English peers tell me that when Haydock dries out, it dries out very quick.

“This has been the plan, and we’re delighted with the horse.

“I would love to go, but we would want minimum good ground.”

Trainer Joe Murphy
Trainer Joe Murphy (PA)

Should connections ultimately decide against bidding for Sprint Cup glory, Gustavus Weston is likely to be rerouted to the Derrinstown Stud Flying Five Stakes at the Curragh on Sunday week.

“We have the five-furlong race in the Curragh and we’re supposed to get plenty of rain during the week,” Murphy added.

“The Curragh will always be good because of the watering system, and I’ve no problem with good ground.

“If we thought the rain was coming we’d gamble and bring him over (to Haydock), but at the moment they tell me the rain isn’t coming until Sunday.

“We’re monitoring the weather and we’ll just have to see what happens.”

Buick expects big Haydock run from Creative Force

As money continues to come for Starman in the Betfair Sprint Cup, William Buick has high hopes he can challenge the favourite in the Haydock showpiece aboard Creative Force.

The Godolphin-owned gelding met with defeat for the first time this season when two lengths behind Starman in fifth, as Ed Walker’s stable star came out on top in the Darley July Cup.

Creative Force subsequently missed out by a neck in the Lennox Stakes at Goodwood, while Starman was a close third in the Prix Maurice de Gheest over six and a half furlongs – which seemed to stretch him at Deauville.

Buick said of the Charlie Appleby-trained Creative Force: “We are on course for the Sprint Cup at the weekend, and he has done nothing wrong all season. I’m very much looking forward to riding him again on Saturday.

“Starman is a good horse, and we are having to take him on again, but hopefully we can close the gap a little bit with him this time round.

“It has not really surprised us what he has done this season, because he ran in the Coventry Stakes as a two-year-old. He has always been held in high regard, but he is just a lovely horse to be around.”