Derby victory would be major tick on Jessica Harrington’s ‘bucket list’
That is the message from the County Kildare handler, whose three-year-old son of Churchill is charting a course to the Epsom Classic on Saturday week.
Sprewell has blossomed this term, winning both starts, including an impressive three-length victory in the Group Three Derby Trial Stakes at Leopardstown.
“I’ve been delighted with him,” said Harrington. “We knew he would come on over the winter and he has run two good, solid races since.
“He came out of Leopardstown very well. He definitely stepped forward from there again and we are looking forward to Saturday week.
“I think the step up to a mile and a half will definitely suit him. He ran through the line very strong and he’s a very nice, relaxed horse, which is the main thing.
“Nothing seems to faze him and I think going the mile and a half will suit him, because I think he will settle well, which he has done in both of his races this year.”
Harrington has previously been better known for training jumping stars such as Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Sizing John, Champion Hurdler Jezki and Champion Chaser Moscow Flyer.
Yet in recent times she has acquired more Flat horses – and quality ones at that.
She has won the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot with Alpine Star and Alpha Centauri, who also took top-class success in the Falmouth, Irish 1,000 Guineas and the Prix Jacques le Marois, while Millisle landed the Cheveley Park and Albigna the Prix Marcel Boussac.
She is no stranger to Classic glory, annexing the Irish Oaks last season with Magical Lagoon before a tough period in her personal life following a breast cancer diagnosis in October.
On a conference call to promote the Betfred-sponsored blue riband, Harrington added: “Things are great and I’m lucky enough.
“I’ve finished the worst part of it probably now, the chemotherapy, and we are just going onto the next stage now. It will take a bit longer, but I’ll be out and about very shortly.
“I’ve been very lucky enough to have a great support team. My daughter Kate and my son-in-law and my other daughter Emma, they’ve been around all winter, keeping things going.
“I did my best to get out every single day I could to look at the horses, because that was the best therapy I reckoned I had, because it was just lovely looking at the horses every day.
“I went racing last Friday at Leopardstown, but I go when it is nice and near when I can.
“I will most likely be watching the Derby at home, but I just don’t know. I’ll see how I get on.”
Harrington has only had one runner in the Derby before, with 150-1 chance Gold Maze finishing ninth to Serpentine, a renewal run during the Covid pandemic in July 2020.
Sprewell goes to Epsom with a greater degree of confidence behind him as a general 12-1 chance and the 76-year-old feels his rapid progress this year, after two runs as a juvenile, will stand him in good stead.
“He’s done everything we hoped he would do,” said Harrington. “We were fairly confident going to Naas for the conditions race, rather than going for a maiden. He did that well and he learned a bit that day.
“He made a big step forward when we sent him to Leopardstown and he hit the line very strong that day, having come round the outside.”
He's a laid-back horse and he's very straightforward, and each time he's run, he's walked round the parade ring in a very relaxed manner
“I think he will improve for racing,” she added. “He’s a fine, big horse.
“We are very happy with the temperament he’s got so far. He’s a laid-back horse and he’s very straightforward, and each time he’s run, he’s walked round the parade ring in a very relaxed manner.
“I know there will be much more hype and buzz in Epsom, but so far he has been very good.”
Physically and mentally, the difference between last year and this has been startling.
She added: “We always thought he would be a better three-year-old than a two-year-old. He never looked like a two-year-old. He was big and backward-looking all the way through last summer.
“He had to grow into himself and then seemed to get organised mentally. He had to grow up mentally more than anything else, he was very babyish last year.”
Those looking to pick holes in his form will point to the ground conditions. All four previous runs have some with plenty of ease and not once has the word ‘good’ entered the going description.
However, Sprewell’s conditioner feels this is something of an outlier and should they race on quick ground at Epsom, she believes it will not be a major factor.
Harrington said: “I think they will all go on it once. He is a low-moving horse, he is a very good-moving horse and I see no reason why he won’t run very well on it.
“It is just out of circumstances he’s run on soft ground, because it was a wet autumn in Ireland last year and it has been a wet spring.”
The Mohamed Khalid Mohamed Abdulrahim-owned colt has ticked every box thus far. Shane Foley’s mount will, of course, have to overcome Epsom’s idiosyncrasies of cambers and undulations, but Sprewell has plenty of the right attributes.
“He is a very well-balanced horse, so I’m hoping he will cope with it fine,” said Harrington.
“It would be very special to win the Derby. It’s on the bucket list. It is great to go there with a horse that’s got a chance. It’s very exciting.”
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