Andrew Balding believes he has Beat The Bank “fit enough to do himself justice” for his reappearance in the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury on Saturday.
The four-year-old features among a record-equalling field of 16 for the £350,000 feature, which forms part of the QIPCO British Champions Series mile category, including five individual Group One winners.
He progressed rapidly last season and won on four occasions, with his victories including a three-length win over Forest Ranger on level weights at Newmarket plus a five-lengths succcess in the Group Two Shadwell Joel Stakes in September.
As a consequence he was sent off 4-1 to win the QIPCO-sponsored Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot in October but he finished a below-par tenth of 15. “It was pretty testing ground and the end of a long season,” Balding said.
“He was also a bit keen and free and did not quite finish his race. He’s better than that. I’m happy with the horse. It’s his first run of the year but I think we’re sending him there as ready as we can get him without a run. It’s a very strong race, as it should be, but it will be great to get him back out on the track and he’s fairly versatile ground wise.
“He would not have been ready in time for Sandown [bet365 Mile], which was our other option. I’m satisfied we are starting him in the right place. It’s a long season and I haven’t been grafting him like this is the be-all and end-all, but I hope he’s fit enough to do himself justice.”
Many of last season’s top milers have departed the scene and so there is the opportunity for relatively new faces like Beat The Bank to make an impact in the mile category of the QIPCO British Champions Series this year.
Balding said: “There’s room for a horse like him [among the mile category]. William Haggas’s horse [Addeybb] has come on in leaps and bounds and looks exciting as well. I’m sure. as always, they are going to be pretty tough races to win and that there will be a few good horses competing in them as the year goes through.”
Addeybb will go to post at the top of his game, having won the 32Red Lincoln at Doncaster and Group 2 bet365 Mile at Sandown in eyecatching style this year. Those wins have been achieved away from a sound surface, though, and underfoot conditions seem certain to be quicker at Newbury.
“The ground is an unknown and I suppose it’s our biggest worry because he’s so effective on slow ground,” said trainer William Haggas. “You wonder whether he can be so effective, or whether he’s quick enough for a mile on faster ground. He’s quite a lazy horse [at home], deceptive. He just trudges along so it’s difficult to know but he looks great and his work has been good.”
Addeybb will be contesting his first Group One race and the trainer added: “He’s useful and gone up from a handicap to a Group 2, but he will have to step up to the plate now.
“We will be a lot wiser after Saturday about where we are in the future. I think he will get further and it may be that a mile on quicker ground is too sharp for him. He won over nine furlongs in the Silver Cambridgeshire [last season] and he looked like he was doing his best work at Sandown in the finish.
“It will be a very interesting race, for sure. Saturday might tell us he needs a mile and a quarter or he doesn’t need fast ground at all. We cannot make any plans beyond the one we’ve got.”
Rhododendron (2017 Prix de l'Opera Longines), Limato (Darley July Cup and Qatar Prix de la Foret in 2016), Librisa Breeze (2017 QIPCO British Champions Sprint), Deauville (2016 Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes) and Suedois (2017 Shadwell Turf Mile) all boast winning form at the highest level.
Meanwhile, Lightning Spear will attempt to go one better than in last year’s renewal when he beat all bar Ribchester. Lancaster Bomber was runner-up in last year’s St James’s Palace Stakes, while Dutch Connection will try to provide Godolphin with a fourth successive triumph in the race, and a ninth since 1998.
Zonderland, runner-up to Lightning Spear in the past two runnings of the Group 2 Grosvenor Sport Celebration Mile Stakes at Goodwood, has ground conditions to his liking for his return, while Zabeel Prince impressed when winning Unibet Doncaster Mile Stakes on his comeback in March. Accidental Agent, Alexios Komnenos, Lahore and War Decree complete a fascinating field.