26 April 2024

Okeechobee fends off Desert Hero for Gordon Richards win

26 April 2024

Okeechobee just held off the late thrust of the King and Queen’s Desert Hero to win the bet365 Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown.

Unraced at two, he showed smart form at three when trained by Roger and Harry Charlton, but with Harry now striking out on his own, this Group Three represented the biggest win in the career of the young handler so far.

Second on his return from a long lay-off at Kempton, the now five-year-old was sent off a 100-30 chance under Ryan Moore, who had already teamed up with Charlton to win the Esher Cup on Hand Of God.

He looked to have plenty to do with two furlongs to run, as Jim Crowley cruised to the front on Israr, who was putting behind him a very disappointing run in Qatar last time out.

Okeechobee quickened past Desert Hero, third in the St Leger when last seen and running over a trip half a mile less, and he initially looked like winning quite comfortably when claiming Israr.

But Tom Marquand really got William Haggas’ Desert Hero rolling and he laid down a strong challenge, only for the line to come two strides too soon, going down by a head with a further three-quarters of a length back to Israr.

“I thought he would go very close beforehand, but watching it was less enjoyable,” said Charlton.

“Turning in, Ryan said they really kicked off the front, which we thought might happen, as it was a field full of stamina horses. He had quite a lot of ground to make up and Ryan was impressed with him from the three to the two to the one.

“He just got there and like they sometimes do, he just leaned in. Al Kazeem used to do it; think he was going to win then start hanging into the rail. But it was impressive.

“He obviously ran a lovely race at Kempton the other day and was entitled to come on for that. He came here 10kg fitter and I think he can probably tighten again, he’s a big, round, rotund horse. That’s only his sixth race and there’s scope for more hopefully.

“Dare I say it, we might have to look at something like the Prix d’Ispahan or the Tattersalls Gold Cup next, it will be one of those two I suspect.”

Haggas will not be too despondent with Desert Hero, as he was on his way out to Hong Kong to watch Dubai Honour, the horse who beat Okeechobee on his comeback at Kempton.

Marquand said of the runner-up: “It was the perfect comeback run for him. I would have loved him to get his head in front but he’s been beaten by a good horse and it was a good reintroduction to racing for him.

“Everything went to plan and he pulled up well and no doubt we will be back up to a mile and a half next and having some more fun with him.”

Maureen Haggas said: “The ground would be too soft for him and the trip would be too short for him. They went a good clip and two from home he was on the back foot a little bit, but he stayed on very well and it’s a nice start.

“He’s come back from a mile and six to a mile and a quarter, so it’s a bit different, but he needed to get going and it will probably be one more run before the Hardwicke.

“For me, he is still not there in his coat and he could change a bit between now and Ascot. These horses at the moment are having a lot to contend with, it’s freezing cold and the trees are coming out and there’s pollen everywhere.

“It’s hard for them and it’s nearly May – and I know it’s the same for them all, but they all have a lot to contend with.

“He took until Ascot to come to himself last year, but he’s getting there earlier this year, so I’m really happy with that and he was good here today.”

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