Smart juveniles score at Newcastle

Tuesday 2 June 2020 20:54, UK

Dandalla and Ben Curtis win
Image: Dandalla and Ben Curtis win

There were plenty of Royal Ascot pointers on offer at Newcastle as the resumption of racing picked up pace on the second day.

As a card at Kempton was running alongside the action at Gosforth Park, the industry can finally feel like it is getting back on its feet following a near-80-day absence due to Covid-19.

With the first two months of the Flat season decimated, Royal Ascot is swiftly upon us this year, coming as it does in just two weeks, and those who took the decision to race at the earliest opportunity may have an advantage, especially in the two-year-old division.

There were four races for juveniles at Newcastle with perhaps James Tate's Victory Heights (6-1) putting down the strongest marker in what looked a decent contest for the second division of the colts' five-furlong maiden.

The result showcased the vagaries of racing coming as it did just 24 hours after a nasty fall for PJ McDonald, in which his mount December Sound sadly lost his life.

"Ascot will be different this year, but ironically the buzz of the crowd wouldn't have bothered him one iota," said Tate.

"I was thinking he'd progress to six furlongs there having started over five, but given how he quickened up, I now think a stiff five at Ascot might suit.

"Whether that is for the Windsor Castle or Norfolk, we'll see how the times and form compares to the other races."

The first division was won by Phil Makin's Muker (20-1) who held on from the fast-finishing Significantly.

The latter is trained by Karl Burke who wasted no time in getting off the mark by winning the next, the first division of the fillies' maiden with Dandalla (7-1).

He said: "I think the colt, who was in front two strides past the line, will get in at Ascot but the ground would be key, I wouldn't want it too quick, if it is we might think of the Prix Robert Papin. The filly will go to Ascot."

Mark Johnston signalled his intention for the season with a double at Kempton and was also on the mark with Pelekai in the second division for fillies with a professional display that marked her out for Ascot, too.

There were Ascot pointers among the older horses as well, with Sir Busker a landmark winner for William Knight in the Betway Handicap.

Knight has been based in Sussex in his career to date but moved to Newmarket during lockdown and Sir Busker (13-2) was his first winner and the first leg of a double of Ben Curtis, who also rode Dandalla.

Sam Hoskins, of owner Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds, said: "We're delighted, it's so nice for the owners who have been very patient, he was supposed to be going for the Lincoln, but obviously that was never going to happen.

"I'm so pleased for William, too, to get his first winner from his new yard, it's an emotional day."

Hoskins added: "Hopefully he might go to Royal Ascot now, for the Hunt Cup or something."

It would be no surprise should Sir Michael Stoute's Mubakker (7-4 favourite) end up at Ascot either, if the ground is suitable.

So far the lightly-raced colt has only won on the all-weather and disappointed on his only run on soft.

Jockey Dane O'Neill said: "The only time he has disappointed on grass was on soft ground and on his breeding you'd suggest that if he's to go on the turf, he'd want a sounder surface."

Hollie Doyle and Archie Watson hit a double courtesy of Canagat (3-1 favourite) and Medal Winner (13-2), while Tim Easterby followed up a winner on Monday when Al Erayg (12-1) won the opening Betway-sponsored one-mile handicap.

Richard Fahey was another to bag himself a winner on the opening two days as Gabrial The One (13-2) was a decisive victor in the Betway Handicap over 12 furlongs for David Nolan.