There are many days when you are heading to the track fancying your chances of a big day. How many times it doesn’t work is the most frustrating thing with racing yet it is what drives all trainers on to try and find that success next time. On Thursday Kevin sent out 6 runners with 3 of them taking the win and given the yard an across the card treble.
Finding the right races can prove to be a bit of a headache at times and this has proven the case with Last Empire. Having only made one start as a juvenile she was eligible for the novice or maiden races. It seemed as though everything conspired against her as when the ground was right there were no races and vice versa. Thankfully patience was rewarded when everything came together and the filly could really perform to her best when she powered home to win the 6f MacRoberts Solicitors LLP Novice Stakes at Hamilton.
The daughter of Pivotal was sent to Kevin by owner Steve Parkin, of Clipper Logistics, and immediately you saw the attraction. She was a typical Pivotal and looked exactly how you would expect the progeny to look. Last Empire had the physique of a colt which showed there was plenty to work with but also meant that connections may have to be patient and let her fill out into her strong frame.
Time was taken, despite some praising signs at home, and Last Empire made her debut in October last season. It was a pleasing first run but showed her inexperience and connections immediately decided that a winter break would do the filly the world of good. Coming back this year, Last Empire had thrived and strengthened up which was exactly what Kevin hoped she would do.
Ready to rock and roll the entry book conspired against Last Empire. There were very few options available or the ones that were, were not the right races. Once the races began to come then Mother Nature decided to put a halt to things. Being by Pivotal it was always clear that Last Empire would not appreciate fast ground. The sun baked the ground so for a good few weeks firm ground was all that you could race on. Finally everything came together and the 6f Novice at Hamilton was the perfect race to return to action.
The race attracted 13 declarations and it looked an interesting contest on paper. There were 3 winners in the field, 1 being a duel winner, and others with decent levels of form sent up from powerful southern yards. The ground was drenched with rain which turned it very soft, heavy in some places. This led to the favourite being withdrawn but it still left a decent contest. Danny Tudhope took the ride as retained jockey, having been unavailable on debut.
With once raced horses tactics are really quite simple and even more so with talented jockeys like Danny. Drawn on the far side in stall 1, Last Empire was smartly away and quick into stride allowing Danny to just drop his hands onto her withers. Keeping it very simple Last Empire just went straight, sticking to her draw and was followed down the centre of the track by the favourite Puerto Banus. The other 9 runners made a beeline towards the stands side rail which meant that punters were certainly going to get an interesting view on where the best ground may be, if there was any difference.
All the main contenders were to the fore but the stands side runners held the advantage racing through the first half go the race. Hurtling downhill the camera panned round at the halfway point and it was clear that Last Empire was a good few lengths down. She travelled very well and looked to be thriving on the soft ground. Between the 3f and 2f marker the race started to really heat up and even this far out the jockeys were beginning to race. Danny was started to pump along in the saddle but it was easier than it looked and he was just asking the filly to lengthen.
Passing the 2f marker and Last Empire had begun to move up down the centre to press the overall lead. Her companion, Puerto Banus had likewise closed the gap although still had a length to make up on Empire. All the fancied runners were still at the head of affairs and little had managed to get into the race. Last Empire was really beginning to eat into the ground and was shifting through the gears. The uphill finish was coming and this would find out any chink in the armour, especially on the testing ground.
Having taken the lead, Last Empire started to increase her advantage heading inside the final furlong. Whilst her rivals weren’t stopping, they weren’t thriving as much as Last Empire. Danny know had to get a little serious to ensure the filly kept up to her work. Having opened up an advantage she hit the rising ground and this was going to be a test. Whilst the others maintained or began to slow, Last Empire powered up the hill. With just a couple of flicks and pushed out to the line Last Empire opened up a clear 2 1/2 length advantage, proving to be the strongest and galloping through the line to take her first career win.
Last Empire always looked the part on paper and she certainly looked the part on the track too. Being by Pivotal she was likely to enjoy the ground and she did handle it very well. Although she won on it there will no doubt that any ground with a little ease will be fine, as long as it isn’t very quick. This was only her second start and Empire showed a very professional attitude, travelling well down the hill before staying powerfully. She saw it out very well but showed plenty of early speed so at present the trip looks ideal although she may possibly get a little further in time. Whatever the plan is Last Empire is definitely an exciting filly to look forward to this year.
It’s not often you turn up on a Thursday at Hamilton to witness Group horses taking each other on. Well Brando, Sands Of Mali and Donjuan Triumphant all showed up for the feature 6f British Stallion Studs Clyde EBF Conditions Stakes providing the crowd with a fantastic race. Brando was the one to come out on top and did so in decisive fashion.
Group 1 winner, multiple Group 1 placed, Ayr Gold Cup winner and a stalwart of the sprinting division, Brando has been a great servant for connections. Carrying the yellow and purple of Angie Bailey and Peter Tingey, Brando has taken on the best throughout the last few seasons. Amazingly people have been quick to right him off this season as possibly a has been, too old too tackle the group races. Brando had other ideas and made a statement as he looks forward to the summer targets.
Having gone agonisingly close last year in both the July Cup and Haycock sprint he came back into training this year as well as ever. The plan was simple, follow the same plan as last year. Starting out at Newmarket, looking for his 3rd Abernant, the 7yo finished a very close third, getting nabbed on the line. He followed that up with a decent effort in the Duke Of York where he was cantering at the 2f maker before the race developed away from him. Both runs showed that he retained all his ability but maybe the quick ground was now a factor that he didn’t like. Another year on his back and possibly it was now a case of him needing to get that little bit of ease to help him perform.
Royal Ascot was never on the cards so he would need a run before heading to the July Cup. Last year he headed to Ireland in between but this time he didn’t get an entry. The race that stuck out was the conditions event at Hamilton. For some reason he thrives on downhill tracks, holding group form on both the Newmarket tracks and Hamilton is close to them in regards of characteristics. Now you wouldn’t expect a top class sprint to take place on a Thursday at Hamilton but the 6f race attracted two Gr 1 winners and a multiple group/listed winner. Sands Of Mali (118) and Donjuan Triumphant (111) would line up alongside Brando and 3 other rivals fo the contest. Although it is never right to ignore any horses, it did look likely to be between the main three, as the rest had way over 20lb to find on official ratings.
As always Tom Eaves was in the saddle and tactics were set to be a little more patient, having changed to race closer to the pace last time out. It would be interesting to see who would go on and as the gates opened it was Lomu who blasted off down the centre of the track. Sands Of Mali decided to make a beeline for the stands side rail which allowed Tom to track over and take a lead off him. The pace was strong but the 6 runners had split to race quite wide apart, although it was the group 1 winners who galloped alongside each other.
There was no holding back as the leader blasted away up front and had a good break over the rest. Brando was anchored at the rear of the field with the favourite firmly in his sights. Soon they were past the halfway point and here there was the first signs of moves being made. Donjuan Triumphant was beginning to get rousted along to try and close in on the leader. Sands Of Mali and Brando were both travelling smoothly and now started to edge back towards the main body of the field. Although the leader was yet to start feeling the pressure, he had gone a strong gallop and still had well over 2f to try and fend off some classy rivals.
Moving to the 2f marker and the big three began to move forward to make their challenges. The lead had been cut and now it seemed clear that Lomu was a sitting duck. Donjuan Triumphant had been niggled along for a while but now Sands Of Mali and Brando were set to come through. Tom was the last one to go for his mount, hoping to wait as long as possible. Having tracked Sands Of Mali throughout he was hoping that the favourite could take him as far as possible. This tactic began to unwind about 1 1/2f from home as the fav failed to really respond to pressure. Tom now had no option but to go and Brando responded by moving past his Gr 1 rival.
The long time leader was proving to be very game but couldn’t repel them any longer and as he began to weaken forced Donjuan Triumphant to switch around. Brando had picked up leaving the favourite in his wake and took the lead with just under a furlong to run. The uphill finish was proving no issue for the chestnut as he began to pull away from Donjuan Triumphant and the pair putting distance tot he rest. Kept up to his work, Brando strode out and proved too powerful for his rivals. The race was now in the bag and the only unknown was the winning margin. Galloping all the way through the line, Brando picked up his first win of the season by a cosy 1 3/4 lengths.
This was Brando’s first step out of group class since his win in the 2016 Ayr Gold Cup. He is a real star and has been such a great servant. People were quick to question the chestnut after not quite hitting his usual heights so far this year, many making an issue of his age. There were no such concerns from connections as his home work was as good as ever and it might just be that now he doesn’t want fast ground. Although 7 yrs old, Brando still has very limited miles on the clock for a sprinter and he showed that he retains all of his ability. He pulled clear of two smart rivals and this is the ideal set up for a third tilt at the July Cup, a race which he has finished 3rd and 2nd in for the past two seasons. Brando is a star and will continue to shine at the top level.
When two winners have already come in then it shows the horses are obviously in fine fettle. North of the border the double was already complete but closer to home it was actually the horse who arguably had the best chance of the day. Magical Spirit took a well deserved win and completed the treble when he took the 6f VML Jan Norton Happy Birthday Handicap at Ripon.
Having rounded his juvenile season off with a win, this year was an exciting not to look forward to for the now 3yo who looked open to plenty of improvement. Starting the season with a mark of 71 it did feel as though that would be on the low side after he impressed in his pre season work. The son of Zebedee always looked the type to improve with racing and time, so when he returned with a strong show at Newcastle to finish second it looked as though connections wouldn’t have to wait long for win number two.
Kevin waited to run the chestnut again and stepped the gelding up to 6f for the first time when going to Redcar. He lined up in a very competitive handicap and had everything beat bar the favourite. Unfortunately he just bumped into one that day but showed another step up in form and was no surely a winner waiting to happen. Having gone close to a seemingly well handicapped rival, Spirit was given a 4lb hike in the handicap. He already held a few entries so with that in mind he was declared at Ripon, 4lb well in.
Andrew Mullen was booked for the ride and with the feeling that he would be on the best horse in the race the tactics were simple. There were 9 runners for the 6f contest so being drawn towards the centre wasn’t ideal but Spirit could still get a good position from stall 2. The only real concern was the track with Ripon offering some tricky characteristics but if he handled them then he deserved his place at the head of the market.
Jumping well, Magical Spirit was immediately into stride and he was allowed to move forward. His market rival was drawn on his outer and jumped on terms but those inside of Spirit didn’t really want to go forward. This allowed Andrew to track over from the centre of the track to race closer to the stands rail. After the first furlong they had made it across to press for the lead and set a nice gallop.
Those around Magical Spirit couldn’t handle the pace or the track and dropped into midfield, handing the initiative to Spirit who now spearheaded the field. Although holding the lead baring down on the halfway point, Spirit wasn’t striding out like he can do. Travelling well he would then start to climb a little and was showing at this early stage that the track was far from ideal.
Although not fluent, Magical Spirit had shown good speed and held a length lead. With this advantage Andrew was able to hold his mount together, helping him to handle the tricky undulations. Closing in on the final 1/4 mile the lead had been cut but only the two market leaders were left on the bridle whilst the rest were under pressure. It was Queen Of Burgundy who was the first to lay down the challenge and came under a drive. Andrew was still pretty motionless, just trying to keep his mount balanced and moving forward. Still holding the lead he was able to be patient.
Moving into the final furlong and the ground levels out which was exactly what Andrew had been waiting for. Spirit held a 1/2 length advantage and now he was asked to go and put the race to bed. He picked up and and started to hit top gear. Queen Of Burgundy was trying hard but couldn’t keep tabs on Spirit who was now on an even keel and quickening away. Having pulled a length clear once again he was now pushed out hands and heels by Andrew. Under the easiest drive, Magical Spirit quickened clear to gain his first win of 2019 by a comfortable 1 1/2 lengths.
This win was impressive but more so with Magical Spirit not handling the track at all. Andrew gave him brilliant ride, patiently allowing him to find his feet but it was the gelding’s class that brought him through. The son of Zebedee is a typical one of his progeny who seems to be very straight forward and improve with every run. The handicapper will certainly assess this performance again as he was due to go up 4lb and a similar rise may well be on the cards. He is a 3yo going in the right direction and is sure to give his owners plenty of fun throughout this year.