Crystal Ocean takes centre stage at Newbury
Last Updated: 18/05/18 2:00pm
Crystal Ocean is the star attraction in the Al Rayyan Stakes at Newbury on Saturday.
After placing in the Dante Stakes at York and the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, Sir Michael Stoute's charge ran out an impressive winner of the Gordon Stakes at Glorious Goodwood last summer to earn himself a shot at Classic glory in the St Leger.
He was beaten just half a length into second by Capri at Doncaster and continued his progress with a comeback victory in last month's Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown.
The son of Sea The Stars returns to a mile and a half for his latest assignment and although he has to concede weight all round, he will still be a hot favourite to see off his four rivals.
Stoute's assistant, James Horton, said: "He is in good shape and the step back up to a mile and a half on a galloping track will suit. We are very hopeful.
"He puts his head on the ground and would gallop through a wall for you. He is ready to go, so fingers crossed he can do it again."
Brian Meehan saddles Raheen House, who needs to bounce back from a disappointing return to action in the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot.
Roger Charlton's course and distance winner Second Step, the Alan King-trained Scarlet Dragon and Buildmeupbuttercup from Mick Channon's yard make up the field.
The seven-race card gets under way with the Shalaa Carnarvon Stakes, which has attracted eight three-year-olds.
Leading owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum has a strong hand fronted by Stoute's Pavilion Stakes runner-up Eqtidaar.
Horton added: "It was a big run at Ascot and you would like to think he has come on a bit for that.
"He came back from Kempton (last September) and scoped dirty, he needed a course of antibiotics. We were disappointed at Kempton, but there was a reason behind it and we put a line through it.
"He is back on better ground as it was on the soft side for him at Ascot and we are hopeful he should run well. So far this year he has done very little wrong."
Also carrying the famous blue and white silks will be the Owen Burrows-trained Shabaaby, who runs for the first since October.
Burrows said: "He won a couple of races for us last season and looked pretty smart.
"He was a little bit disappointing on his last run at York (finished fourth). Whether we just went to the well once too often with him, I'm not sure, but I don't think the draw helped him either.
"This looks a nice starting point for him. He's rated 107 and I hope the handicapper is right.
"We'll have a better idea of where we are after Saturday."
Other hopefuls include Charlton's Breathless Times, John Gosden's Juliet Capulet and Aidan O'Brien's Irish challenger Murillo.
Crystal Hope will attempt to follow up her impressive novice success at Sandown by giving Stoute a record-equalling fifth victory in the Listed Haras De Bouquetot Fillies' Trial Stakes.
Horton said: "I wouldn't say it was a surprise at Sandown as we thought she would run well, but she picked up better than expected.
"She has come out the race really well and is fresh. She breezed nicely on Thursday morning so we are very hopeful.
"She is a good-actioned filly, so I would like to think she will go on any ground. The form has been boosted nicely (by Give And Take) so that can only be a tick in the box."
A field of 11 will go to post for the #70,000 Al Zubarah London Gold Cup.
Roger Varian claimed this prize with the prolific Defoe 12 months ago and has another major contender in recent Doncaster winner Masaarr.