Starman provided Ed Walker with the highlight of his career so far when winning the Group One Darley July Cup at Newmarket earlier this season and the Upper Lambourn trainer believes the four year old has the perfect opportunity to land another prize at the very highest level in the Betfair Sprint Cup at Haydock Park this Saturday (September 4th).
A field of 11 is set to line up the six furlong contest, which forms part of the QIPCO British Champions Series, following today’s final declaration stage. Starman, a son of Dutch Art who was homebred by his owner David Ward, is the Evens favourite with sponsor Betfair.
Walker is delighted that Starman will have conditions in his favour at Haydock Park, where the ground is currently Good to Firm.
The trainer said: “I am quite surprised to be here really. We always wanted to come to the Sprint Cup but historically we thought it would be unlikely given the horse’s preference for good ground. It’s a real bonus to be going into the race with conditions likely to be in his favour.
“It was a career highlight when he won the July Cup. It was great that he was able to show what he can really do, as I’ve always believed he is a truly exceptional horse.”
Following his Darley July Cup success, Starman headed over to France for the Group One Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville on August 8th, when he was beaten into third behind Marianafoot. However, his trainer believes that defeat can be attributed to a combination of soft ground and an extra half-furlong.
Walker continued: “He still ran a massive race at Deauville and ran better than he did in the really heavy conditions at Ascot on Champions Day last year. It was proper stamina-sapping ground in France, it was drying quite quickly and it was tacky.
“He coped with it and was bang there at the six-furlong pole - I think with the extra half-furlong and the conditions his stamina was really tested. It was disappointing as I thought when he hit the front it was job done and it then got snatched away. It was a pretty tough race to watch.”
Everything has gone to plan since that defeat however, and with conditions back in his favour Walker believes Starman is the one they all have to beat on Saturday
He said: “He has trained great since France and came out of the race well. We’ve just freshened him up. He is a big horse but doesn’t take a huge amount of work.
“His preparation has been very straightforward. From quite a long way out, the weather looked like being kind to us so it wasn’t an afterthought to suddenly get him ready for Haydock. He goes there in great shape.
“He has run against and beaten most of the field already this season and it looks a great opportunity for him. You’d never be confident going into a race like this, but he is going into Saturday in similar form and on a track that will probably suit him better (than Newmarket) on ground that we know he loves and he will hopefully get the job done. I think he is the best horse in the race and if he is in the same form that he was at Newmarket, he will prove that.
“He is only four and not had a lot of racing as COVID ruined last year and the weather hasn’t helped us much this year. Dare I say it but I think he could still improve. These sprinters often do improve with experience.
“He didn’t actually have a great trip at Newmarket as there were horses in his way and it was far from straightforward. Hopefully he can get a smooth passage on Saturday and can back that up. We are very excited that we will be seeing him back on a fast surface.”
Jockey Tom Marquand has partnered Starman on all bar one of his seven starts and takes the ride again on Saturday.
Paying tribute to Marquand’s skills, Walker concluded: “I phoned Tom when I was walking the July Course on the morning of the July Cup. I was tearing myself to bits about the draw, the pace and this and that.
“I couldn’t work out in my mind how the race was going to pan out so when I rang Tom I told him I was happy with the ground and said ‘I hope you don’t mind but I am just going to leave it to you – you know the horse, you know the track and can get the job done’.
“Tom is a brilliant jockey. Although still relatively inexperienced he is an old head on young shoulders and doesn’t need instructions. I think it was Lester Piggott who said there is no point giving jockeys instructions – good jockeys don’t need them and bad jockeys can’t carry them out!”
Betfair Sprint Cup, Betfair odds: Evens Starman, 5/1 Creative Force, 13/2 Art Power 8/1 Glen Shiel, 14/1 Summerghand, 14/1 Supremacy, 16/1 Happy Romance, 22/1 Chil Chil, 28/1 Emaraaty Ana, 33/1 Garrus, 40/1 Nando Parrado
Betfair spokesman, Barry Orr, said today: “At Evens, Starman is a very warm favourite to add to his July Cup victory.
“Both Creative Force and Art Power have to turn that July Cup form around but punters don’t appear to be holding out much hope that they can. Being realistic, once there is no rain, Starman will probably go off at odds-on come Saturday.”