El Caballo (7-2) outlined his credentials for next month’s Group One Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot with a game victory in the Group Two Cazoo Sandy Lane Stakes at Haydock Park this afternoon – though winning trainer Karl Burke was keen to keep his cards close to his chest about his chances in the big race.
The Sandy Lane is seen as one of the main trials for the Royal meeting and the son of Havana Gold was certainly well-fancied for this, arriving here on the back of five straight victories – most recently on All-Weather Finals Day at Newcastle last month.
And there was plenty to like about today’s performance too, showing plenty of resilience to hold off the attentions of the Hugo Palmer-trained Flaming Rib (11-2) to prevail by a neck.
That victory saw El Caballo shortened into 6-1 second favouritism with bookmakers for the Commonwealth behind the Richard Fahey-trained Perfect Power, and Burke was delighted with what he saw in the trial.
He said: “I wasn’t concerned about the ground but he’s had to go and prove it in that class. He’s a very good horse and he’s tough too. If you go back and watch the Good Friday race at Newcastle we didn’t want to be in-front or upsides and he’s run with the choke out for three furlongs.
“That’s a hard thing to do to carry on and quicken again like he did that day, so we knew that with a lead and relaxing early –we’ve seen it at home – that he’d pick up and he’d really bounce home.
“It’ll probably be different ground at Ascot but as long as it’s not rattling I’d be happy. I said this morning that whatever wins this race today will certainly be one of the favourites for Ascot.”
That victory provided a first Group Two success for jockey Clifford Lee, who commented: “It feels brilliant and I’m delighted to get my first Group-race winner.
“He is very talented and has got a lot of ability. He has won his last six races now and tries so hard – he goes again when another horse comes to him.
“He is quick and also stays seven furlongs, so the Commonwealth Cup and Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot could both be on the cards. We will have to see how he comes out of this and what the boss and everyone else chooses.”
Meanwhile, trainer Hugo Palmer was delighted with the run of runner-up Flaming Rib, who will also head to the Royal meeting.
He said: “We survived a stewards’ enquiry in Ireland ten minutes ago, so I think we’ve used up all of our luck for today but he’s a really tough horse that goes on any ground and I’m delighted he’s stepped forward.
“Obviously it’s disappointing to finish second but I think we feel that if we were able to eyeball the winner for the whole race we might have got by him but that’s the luck of the draw and that’s how it goes. We certainly feel that we’re justified in going to Ascot now with a real chance in the big one. He’s been narrowly beaten in the main trial so we’ll give it a swing.
“Brad The Brief won the Greenlands Stakes really well (at the Curragh) and although he had to survive a stewards’ enquiry there were several lengths back to the rest of them. William Buick has got off him and said that he’s a very good horse and could win a Group One so it’s fantastic.”