The bet365 Old Newton Cup Festival has produced some fabulous action across the three days and the Saturday was just as eye-catching.
Its feature race, the historic bet365 Old Newton Cup, can be traced back more than two centuries, and the bet365 Lancashire Oaks is just as prestigious.
We asked Nick Seddon to keep tabs on all of the action…
ALOUNAK LANDS THE FEATURE AND IMPRESSES DE SOUSA
It may be a handicap in name, but the bet365 Old Newton Cup certainly takes some winning and plenty of smart types have taken home the prestigious prize in years gone by.
The Soft going meant that only 12 took their chance this year, but we saw an impressive winner in the Andrew Balding-trained Alounak (14-1), who took advantage of his sliding mark to seal an impressive three-length success under Silvestre De Sousa.
Alounak is a high class performer on his day, placing in Group Two company last summer, and De Sousa was impressed with what he saw. He said: “He’s done very well out there. He travelled really smart throughout the race and if you were watching the race you could call me the winner from three furlongs but because we were the only ones travelling.
“I was confident about the going when I went back through his form as I knew he’d go on the soft going, but I don’t think he’s at his best in this ground because when I let him down he was sinking in the ground a bit and never felt comfortable in it.
“He has run well in a couple of Group races in the past and he’s slipped down now to a mark that gets him in a handicap so it was all suitable for him and he’s done that well.”
MORRIS FULL OF PRAISE FOR GUTSY ALPINISTA
Elsewhere on the card was the Group Two bet365 Lancashire Oaks over a mile and a half, which was won in determined fashion by the Sir Mark Prescott-trained Alpinista (11-4F).
The four year old was a fine second behind Love in last year’s Group One Yorkshire Oaks and while she was untried on today’s Soft conditions, she knuckled down well to grind out a length and a quarter success from the Roger Varian-trained pair Lady Hayes (22-1) and Cabaletta (22-1).
And Morris was pleased that her connections took their chance this afternoon. He said: “Every time she’s been due to run this year we’ve scratched her when the ground went slow, but she’s waited for this race and we’ve rolled the dice. She seemed to be as equally on firm ground as she is on slow ground, so it definitely opens up some options.
“She proved at Goodwood that she’s generous under pressure and digs in so hopefully it’s onwards and upwards for her. She was second to Love in the Yorkshire Oaks last year and she’s a Group Two winner now, so if she can get some more Group One black type that would be very rewarding for her future career.
“These are the horses you’re after when you’re in every morning and travelling home late so it’s nice to have a smart filly on our hands and it would be great if she can ply her trade in a couple of Group Ones and we’ll see what happens.”
RUSSELL CELEBRATES BIGGEST EVER WINNER WITH TASHKHAN
The second race on the card was the bet365 Handicap over one mile and six furlongs, which wasn’t without considerable drama at the start when the favourite Dhushan was withdrawn due to losing a shoe.
It’s up for debate whether he would have lived with the Brian Ellison-trained Tashkhan (16-5) though, who cruised into contention on the stands side rail under Harry Russell and sealed a comfortable one and a half length success.
And Russell, who hailed this as his biggest ever winner, feels that there’s plenty more to come from the son of Born To Sea. He said: “To be fair the first part of the race I was expecting him to travel in his comfort zone more than ever, but I just think it just took him a while to find his feet on the wet ground. The further he went the better he was going though and all up the straight I thought he was the winner.
“Things like the November Handicap (at Doncaster) are always going to play into his strengths. He won off 86 today but he’s got a little bit of talent to push him on yet, so the world is at his feet at the minute.
“It’s definitely the biggest win of my career so far and it takes me to 48 wins, so two to go until my claim drops down to 3lbs. It’s been a good start to the year and hopefully if I keep working it will get even better.”
AGE NO BARRIER AS DANZENO ROLLS BACK THE YEARS
While the withdrawal of four of the seven runners due to the going altered the market for the bet365 Conditions Stakes over six furlongs, it did not detract from the action as the remaining three served up a spectacle.
The market struggled to settle the trio of Meraas (7-2), Lampang (11-10F) and Danzeno (15-8) and all three still had every chance of taking the spoils all the way up to the final furlong pole.
It was the 10 year old Danzeno who knuckled down best under Ray Dawson and the jockey was delighted to see the veteran roll back the years and win this for the second time in three years.
He said: "He needed the run at Ascot and he's not getting any younger, so to come here and be competitive is fantastic. He was almost doing too much early on so he's clearly in a great place."
FIRE BURNS BRIGHTLY DESPITE THE RAIN
The late going change from Good to Soft to Soft certainly won’t have suited everybody but it will have been music to the ears of David O’Meara whose Young Fire (15-2) made the best of his way home in the opening race on the card.
Indeed, each of the six year old’s four wins coming into today had been on testing surfaces – including twice here – and he showed plenty of grit to come through the pack under Danny Tudhope and grind out a three quarter of a length success in the Each Way Extra At bet365 Handicap.
Tudhope was pleased to see everything come together. He said: "The ground was a big plus for him and he's won off his last winning mark. He's a fair horse on his day and he's been running well this year without winning.
“He needs them to go quick and not get there too soon so it's all fallen nicely for him."