Melbourne Cup hero Cross Counter bids to get back on the winning trail in the Coral Henry II Stakes at Sandown on Sunday.
The son of Teofilo made history when becoming the first British-trained winner of the Flemington showpiece in 2018, before adding the Dubai Gold Cup to his big-race haul just under five months later.
Cross Counter is winless in six subsequent starts, but has been placed on a few occasions – most recently finishing a distant third behind the mighty Stradivarius in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.
Trainer Charlie Appleby said: “He has definitely come forward for his run in the Gold Cup. I was pleased with that run and he finished the race off well in soft conditions over that extended trip (two and a half miles).
“There was no pressure on him last time and I told James (Doyle) to ride him chilly and let him enjoy himself – passing a few horses to still if he still shows that enthusiasm, and he did.
“You can’t win every race but there were positives to take out of it. I feel we are coming back to a trip (two miles) that is more suitable to him and a repeat performance should see him go close.”
Cross Counter is set to face just four rivals in the Group Three contest, including Roger Charlton’s Gold Cup fourth Withhold.
Andrew Balding’s Buckhounds Stakes winner Dashing Willoughby, the David Simcock-trained Spanish Mission and Summer Moon from Mark Johnston’s yard complete the quartet.
Group Three honours are also up for grabs in the preceding Coral Charge, which has attracted a field of 12 quality sprinters.
Appleby houses the likely favourite for this five-furlong dash in Lazuli, who was mightily impressive in the Listed Scurry Stakes over the course and distance three weeks ago.
“It always helps when you are a course and distance winner at Sandown,” said the Newmarket handler.
“He is a very progressive young sprinter. We felt he ran well on his first start of the year on soft ground over six furlongs at Newmarket and he showed plenty of natural pace that day. We dropped him back to five in the Scurry and he was impressive.
“He is taking his elders on for the first time on Sunday, but we are very happy with him.”
Lazuli’s biggest threat could be John Quinn’s rapid filly Liberty Beach.
The daughter of Cable Bay has won five of her eights starts – including a victory over Sandown’s five furlongs – and was last seen finishing an excellent third behind the brilliant Battaash and Equilateral in the King’s Stand.
Quinn said: “It was a very good run by Liberty Beach at Ascot considering it was only nine days after her first run of the season at Haydock. She seems in good form so it is all systems go.
“I think course and distance form is a help anywhere, but she relished running at Sandown last year, so the track holds no fears.
“You never know if they have trained on until you run them and that is the acid test. Touch wood she seems like she has, so we are looking forward to Sunday.”
The Michael Dods-trained Dakota Gold and Clive Cox’s Tis Marvellous also feature.
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