25 April 2024

Desert Hero drops back in trip for seasonal reappearance

25 April 2024

Having famously provided the King and Queen with their first Royal Ascot success last summer, Desert Hero is one of the star attractions at Sandown on Friday, as he makes his seasonal debut in the bet365 Gordon Richards Stakes.

The William Haggas-trained four-year-old delighted racegoers in Berkshire when carrying the royal colours to a thrilling victory in the King George V Stakes and went on to establish himself as a genuine St Leger contender by landing the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood.

He came up short in his bid to emulate Dunfermline, who 46 years earlier had provided the late Queen Elizabeth II with the last of her five British Classic wins in the Town Moor showpiece, but ran with plenty of credit to finish third and Haggas is looking forward to his return in Esher.

“He’s running over a mile and a quarter, but he’s a lovely horse and he should run a good race,” said the Somerville Lodge handler.

“He’s got a turn of foot, he showed that last season, he’s not bad, so it will be interesting. It’s a nice, stiff track and it’s a good starting place for him.

“I think he’s a 12-furlong horse really but he needs to get started and this is as good a place as any to do that.”

One of the biggest threats to Desert Hero appears to be John and Thady Gosden’s Israr, who was an impressive winner of the Group Two Princess of Wales’s Stakes at Newmarket last July and returns to UK action following a winter campaign in the Middle East.

The five-year-old finished a well-beaten ninth behind Rebel’s Romance on his most recent appearance in Qatar and is fitted with blinkers for the first time on Friday.

Angus Gold, racing manager to owners Shadwell, said: “I think the team at Clarehaven just felt he was minding himself a bit in Qatar, hence the application of the headgear.

“He’s been in good form at home and on his best form, I’d like to think he’ll run well. The track should play to his strengths and hopefully the blinkers might just get him to concentrate a bit.

“I think a mile and a quarter should be fine for him. He’s got plenty of toe this horse, funnily enough. We’ve been trying to make him a staying horse and I think he’s got a bit more speed than we gave him credit for.”

Okeechobee is also a leading contender for Harry Charlton, Juddmonte and Ryan Moore. Having been off the track since September 2022, the five-year-old made a promising return when second to the globetrotting Dubai Honour in the Magnolia Stakes at Kempton at the start of this month.

“He’s in good shape and ran a big race on his comeback,” said Juddmonte’s European racing manager Barry Mahon.

“The handicapper put him up 8lb, which takes us out of handicap company, so we might as well kick on and make the best of him now. Hopefully he will come on from that first run, when he’d been off the track for that long you would like to think he will sharpen up for it.

“He’s a nice horse who we look forward to having plenty of fun with this year. We just need to get a bit of mileage into him, as he’s only had five career starts and he does need experience.”

The field is completed by William Knight’s stable star Checkandchallenge, the Ralph Beckett-trained Artistic Star, Sir Mark Todd’s Tasman Bay and Flying Honours from Charlie Appleby’s yard.

The last-named contender has not been seen in competitive action since trailing home last of 11 runners and finishing lame in last season’s Dante Stakes, his only start as a three-year-old.

“Flying Honours hasn’t run since last May, so there will be some improvement to come from whatever he does here,” Appleby told www.godolphin.com.

“A mile and a quarter is a good starting point, although we will be looking at stepping him up in trip afterwards. We are hoping for a nice comeback run that we can build on.”

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