Sprint stars have Walker dreaming of Royal Ascot glory
Ed Walker has twin Royal Ascot targets firmly in focus for his two smart sprinters Came From The Dark and Starman.
Came From The Dark is an intended runner in the King’s Stand Stakes next month – irrespective of whether the mighty Battaash is fit again in time to defend his title – and Walker hopes to have Starman in action at the top level too, four days later in the Diamond Jubilee.
The Lambourn trainer just needs to fine-tune their respective routes to Ascot first, of course – which in Came From The Dark’s case is likely to be a Haydock assignment this month, or a rest, while Starman is all set to return at York next week.
I was obviously thrilled with the way he ran, but I can't help but feel we should have won
Came From The Dark found things just going against him at a crucial time in last weekend’s Palace House Stakes, in which he had to settle for a neck second behind Lazuli after meeting trouble in running.
“I think he was desperately unlucky,” said Walker.
“I was obviously thrilled with the way he ran, but I can’t help but feel we should have won.”
It was nonetheless a performance full of promise from the grey, who in three runs so far at the start of his five-year-old campaign is beginning to fulfil his potential.
“He’s done nothing but improve all year since being gelded,” added Walker.
“It looks like he could reach the heights we hoped he might – which was why we never gelded him (initially).
“Last year was a disaster. He had proper feet issues, but we’ve just got him right this year – and obviously the gelding has helped, and the wind op has probably helped a bit.
“Between staff, vet, farrier, everyone has played their part to get him to his best.
“He really has improved – and now that his feet are so much better as well, he’s more versatile as regards to ground.
“I think that’s going to be his real strength, he’s versatile – and whatever the ground comes up at Ascot, Haydock or wherever, he should be fine.”
Starman is more ground dependent – which is one of the reasons he is unlikely to take up his entry at Haydock this weekend and instead wait another four days to return in the Group Two Duke of York Clipper Logistics Stakes.
Haydock may fit the bill for Came From The Dark, however, in either the Temple Stakes on May 22 or a Listed alternative there a week later.
“I put him in the Temple, which has just closed,” said Walker.
I think even if Battaash goes, we'd go ... I don't think it would be any shame finishing second to him
“That’s a three-week turnaround – he’s run three times in four weeks, so he’s had a busy month to start the year.
“Whether we take in the Temple or wait an extra week and go to the Achilles again at Haydock, or go straight to Ascot, my mind will be made up by how he is.”
The signs so far are encouraging, with his big date in Berkshire already looming large.
“He seems to have come out of the race very well – with the King’s Stand being the real target,” said Walker.
“I think even if Battaash goes, we’d go. He (Battaash) is obviously going to have a slightly rushed prep if he does get there, and I don’t think it would be any shame finishing second to him – he’s been phenomenal, that horse.”
Starman was unbeaten in his first three career starts – including a Listed race at York – and Walker has high hopes again for his six-furlong specialist, starting back at the Knavesmire.
“The plan has always been York,” he said.
“The weather is a worry – I entered him at Haydock, and that will probably be even wetter.
“So I think the plan is very much still to start him off at York and see where we go.
“He’s massively exciting, and it’s great to see a few of his work companions doing so well on the track – so that bodes well for him.”
Walker is aware he is setting the four-year-old a searching task, but is keen to give him necessary extra practice.
He said: “The Duke of York is obviously going to be a very tough starting point, and he’s still a relatively inexperienced sprinter – and I think experience counts for a lot with them, which is why they tend to get better with age.
“They get stronger, but (also) they get more battle-hardened.
“So Duke of York, then straight to Ascot, is a big ask – but he’s exceptionally talented. We’re massively excited about seeing him out – but he does really want top of the ground, so it could be a bit tricky.”
Starman’s vulnerability in testing conditions was apparent when he met with the only defeat of his career so far, albeit in the highest class when well-beaten in the British Champions Sprint Stakes at Ascot in October.
Walker said: “Tom (Marquand) just said he never went a yard, and his wheels were just spinning – (but) it was very soft there on Champions Day.
“It was the slow side of good at York when he beat Dakota Gold, and that was a proper performance.
“So he’s not an absolute must to have fast ground, but he definitely doesn’t want it very soft. We’d be happy enough with good or good to soft.”