By Andy Stephens
Aidan O’Brien could have his first runners in an all-weather race in Britain for the first time in 16 years at next month.
Artificial surfaces in the UK have been an O’Brien free zone since 2002 but that could all change in the £100,000 Betway Winter Derby at Lingfield on February 24 because the champion trainer has made six entries.
O'Brien's squad for the Group Three contest is headed by Deauville, a Grade One winner in America who was third in the Queen Anne Stakes last year, and Idaho, who landed the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Neither of the pair have raced on the all-weather. Betway have chalked up Deauville at 5-1 and Idaho at 8-1.
O’Brien, who scooped a record 28 Group One wins last season, has also entered Lancaster Bomber, who finished runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Mile and Woodbine Mile year.
Lancaster Bomber’s boasts winning form on an artificial surface, having landed the UAE Derby on dirt at Meydan last year.
O’Brien’s team is completed by War Decree, War Secretary and the J P McManus-owned mare Clear Skies. All three boast winning form on the Polytrack at Dundalk and the last-named is a four-time winner there this winter.
The winner of the ten-furlong Winter Derby is guaranteed a free start in £200,000 Betway Easter Classic over the same course and distance on £1-million All-Weather Championships Finals Day on March 30.
Last year's victor, Convey, who followed up in the Easter Classic, is one of two entries for Sir Michael Stoute and could try to become for the first two-time winner.
Hugo Palmer could run Star Archer, who returned from a long absence with a comfortable victory at Wolverhampton this month.
Palmer said: "Star Archer has a fair bit to find as things stand, but we expected him to win pretty much on the bridle at Wolverhampton last week and he did.
"He has taken the race really well and will need to run again before the Winter Derby. It could conceivably be in the Winter Derby Trial (February 3), or alternatively there is a handicap at Wolverhampton the following week.
"The Winter Derby might just come a month too soon in his preparation, given he was off the track for so long, but if everything clicked and went according to plan, we might give it a go."
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