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Top Rank makes light work of Doncaster Mile rivals

Top Rank announced himself as an exciting miler for the forthcoming season with an eyecatching win in the Unibet Doncaster Mile.

James Tate’s grey had won five of his seven career outings before his seasonal reappearance – and as one of those was a Group Three he was conceding 5lb and more to some smart rivals.

But once PJ McDonald asked him to quicken up three furlongs out he moved through the field effortlessly, looking a class above, and he only needed to be pushed out with hands and heels to beat What’s The Story by a length at 11-2.

“He looked to be bigger and better this year, but there was also an outside chance he was just fat!” said Tate.

“Thankfully he was just bigger and better and that was great. He’d done two pieces of work on the grass and thankfully he wasn’t blowing too much after it.

“He’s a Group Three winner already so the obvious step would be a Group Two. There is one at Sandown, but that is quite a tight right-handed track and might not be for him. There’s also an option in France.

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“We could just be brave and if he’s well and the ground isn’t fast we could go for the Lockinge and he might have a decent chance.”

He added: “He looks an improved horse, his work had been better so it’s exciting to see him do it on the track.”

McDonald then doubled up on Artistic Rifles (8-1) in the Unibet Spring Mile – stepping in for Andrea Atzeni who was a late absente having been informed he had to isolate after being contacted by coronavirus track and trace.

Artistic Rifles (14) battled back to beat Acquitted
Artistic Rifles (14) battled back to beat Acquitted (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Atzeni had been in Bahrain, and a passenger on his flight subsequently tested positive.

That did not take any shine off the victory for trainer Ed Bethell, though, saddling just his second winner since taking over form his father, James.

“Days like this are what it is all about, winning nice races on a Saturday,” said Bethell.

“This horse is not easy to deal with on a morning so a lot of credit must go to his lad, Liam Reeves, who battles with him every morning on the gallops and does a wonderful job. Liam said he’d run well, so he deserves a lot of credit.

“He only ever only just wins which is great when it comes to handicapping!

“It’s a shame for Andrea, but I’ve no doubt he’ll be winning big races before too long.”

Eve Johnson Houghton won Unibet Brocklesby Conditions Stakes with her first runner in the race as Chipotle secured an impressive success.

Sent off an 8-1 shot, Charlie Bishop brought him down the centre of the track to beat Wonderful World by two and a quarter lengths.

Chipotle impressed in the Brocklesby
Chipotle impressed in the Brocklesby (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He’s always worked quite nicely at home, but he’s not been really well drilled as mine aren’t normally this forward,” said Johnson Houghton.

“He did that really nicely, though, so that is a relief. He’s got a nice pedigree. I’m thrilled with that.

“The only issue now is that this was a Class 4 so he’ll have a penalty in a novice.

“He’s my first runner in the race so it’s pretty exciting.”

Rank aiming to Top Doncaster Mile rivals

Top Rank will have an early chance to confirm he is still an improving horse for the season ahead in the Listed Unibet Doncaster Mile Stakes.

Trainer James Tate senses the imposing grey, who has grown again from four to five, has progressed through the winter – having already established a high level of form in 2020.

Top Rank must concede weight all round when he returns on Saturday, as the winner of Haydock’s Group Three Superior Mile on his penultimate start last September.

But Tate is optimistic that he can step forward again – either over his proven trip of a mile, up to 10 furlongs, or even over shorter –  after winning five of only seven career attempts to date.

“He’s ready to go, he’s in good form and he’s done extremely well through the winter. But it’s not a bad Listed race, and he’s got to give them all a 5lb Group Three penalty,” the Newmarket trainer said.

“It’s no easy task, but on the other hand, we are very happy with him and excited to see him back on the track.

“Obviously we’re at the start of a new season, but so far we think he’s improved.

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“We’re just hoping he’s come on again. A little drop of rain wouldn’t do him any harm either.”

Top Rank was a winner at Newmarket in 2019
Top Rank was a winner at Newmarket in 2019 (Nigel French/PA)

The son of Dark Angel has always towered over the majority of his rivals, and Tate added: “Believe it or not, he has grown from four to five.

“He’s a massive, big horse and he’s been working very nicely – so we’re just looking forward to seeing him back on the track really.”

Doncaster will be informative for the future in terms of trip, and to an extent ground too.

Tate added: “It’s hard (to know) with these horses – they’re not mature until later in their lives.

“Certainly earlier in his career, we swerved fast ground – because we felt it would be likely to injure him.

“He’s a much more mature horse now.

“First run of the year, ideally we would just like nice, good ground.”

As for subsequent targets, Tate expects to be wiser after this weekend.

“We’ll just have to get Saturday out of the way,” he said.

“Sometimes these horses do stretch out a little bit, and I have got him on all race searches – thinking ‘would he get a mile and a quarter?’.

“But then, sometimes they surprise you – they get bigger and stronger and they come back to seven.”

Montatham, who had Top Rank back in third place when landing a York handicap in August, is among the opposition.

The William Haggas-trained five-year-old meets Top Rank on 6lb better terms.

Richard Fahey’s Space Traveller is an interesting runner, having his first race since finishing sixth in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot last summer. That was the only outing in 2020 for the Bated Breath entire, who won the Jersey Stakes and Boomerang Stakes in 2019.

Juan Elcano, fifth to Kameko in the 2000 Guineas, is given an early seasonal debut by Kevin Ryan, while Richard Hannon is double-handed with Beat Le Bon and Qaysar.

Tate plotting direct route to Finals Day for Victory Heights

Victory Heights is to head for the Ladbrokes All-Weather Three-Year-Old Championship Final without another run.

The James Tate-trained colt booked his place at Lingfield on Good Friday with victory in a fast-track qualifier at Wolverhampton in early December.

“I think he’ll go straight for the final. He goes well fresh,” said Tate.

“We toyed with that fast-track qualifier at Newcastle at the end of February.

“Bar that, there isn’t anything suitable for him, so we’ll probably just get him ready and give him a gallop at Chelmsford or somewhere and go straight for the final.”

Tate cannot wait to start off Top Rank’s 2021 turf campaign in the Doncaster Mile at the end of March.

The Newmarket handler reports the five-year-old to be thriving and is hoping he can continue to progress.

The son of Dark Angel has won five of his seven starts, with his biggest success so far coming in the Group Three Superior Mile at Haydock in September.

“He’s in great form. He’s huge – he gets bigger and bigger. He’s about 580 kilos at the moment,” said Tate.

“Fingers crossed he can progress from four to five like he has done every other year. He’s the size and stamp that should.

“We’re dying to get going, so we’ll probably turn up at the first grass meeting at Doncaster for the mile Listed race and use that as a springboard to decide what are the best Group targets for him later in the year.

“He handles a bit of mud, and there is usually at bit of mud at Doncaster. Fingers crossed, it’s a good plan.”

Tate hopes Top Rank can improve again next year

Top Rank is likely to be put away for the winter as connections draw a line through his disappointing performance at Newmarket.

The four-year-old colt went into the Joel Stakes in fine form, on the back of victory in the Group Three Superior Mile at Haydock, only to suffer just his second defeat from seven starts.

The Group Two contest did not go to plan, with James Tate’s charge eventually finishing last of the six runners behind 2000 Guineas winner Kameko.

“It just didn’t play to his strengths,” said Tate.

“He probably wants more of a testing race. That kind of downhill, tailwind, good ground, Newmarket didn’t really suit him, but he’s fine afterwards.

“We haven’t decided fully, but I wouldn’t have thought we’d run him again this season. I thought we’d put him away for next year.

“He’s had a good year – and hopefully he can improve over the winter.”

Top Rank is set to kick off the 2021 campaign over a mile, but Tate will consider stepping the son of Dark Angel up in trip.

“We’ll certainly start him over a mile, but there is a possibility we could try a mile and a quarter at some stage,” added the Newmarket trainer.

“That fast mile at Newmarket seemed a little on the sharp side for him.”

Newmarket could be next for QEII contender Top Rank

James Tate has the Shadwell Joel Stakes at Newmarket on September 25 in mind next for Top Rank, although the weather could scupper his plan.

The rapidly-improving four-year-old was impressive at Haydock last time out in the Superior Mile, and Tate has his eyes on a crack at the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on British Champions Day.

He would prefer that Top Rank goes to Ascot having contested a Group Two first – but the grey does not want fast ground.

“What I would like to run him in next is the Joel at Newmarket, but he wouldn’t be a fast ground horse,” said Tate.

“That’s the first possible race, so we’ll just have to take it as it comes. Other possibles are the Prix Daniel Wildenstein in France or the Challenge Stakes at Newmarket I’ve entered him in, but that’s over seven and he really would want cut in the ground for that.

“At the end of the year obviously there is the QEII but we’re looking for a Group Two next, ideally.”

Tate went on: “He came out of Haydock in very good order and is crying out for another run. I’d like that to be the Joel, but I would like to see some rain between between now and then.

“I’d rather give him a run in a Group Two before a Group One, but I can see problems in that so we could end up in a Group One straight away. Either way, I think he’s going to be some prospect next year.

“Should he win the QEII then obviously there’s a stud career to think about, but that would be a lovely conversation to have. At this stage I’m going into the autumn thinking we’re going to have fun with him next year.”