By Nick Seddon
Frankie Dettori feels that Little Big Bear (Evens Favourite) will be a “big favourite” for next month’s Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot, after he impressed on his return to sprinting with a facile success in the Group Two Betfred Nifty Fifty Sandy Lane Stakes at Haydock Park on Saturday afternoon.
The three year old was crowned as Europe’s champion juvenile last term, winning four of his five starts as a two year old including the Group One Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh last August.
The step up to a mile in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas didn’t work out for the son of No Nay Never at Newmarket earlier this month but he was back to his very best here, finding plenty for Dettori’s encouragement at the two-furlong pole and quickly strolling clear from the Richard Hannon-trained Shouldvebeenaring to win by a length and a quarter.
Remarkably, Little Big Bear’s success today was a first at Haydock Park for trainer Aidan O’Brien.
The Karl Burke-trained Quiet Reflection went on to win the Commonwealth Cup after striking in this race back in 2016 and Dettori feels that Little Big Bear will take all the beating at Ascot next month – with bookmakers shortening him into a general price of 7-4 for the Group One contest.
Aidan O'Brien discusses the victories of Paddington and Little Big Bear
Dettori, recording a 4-1 double after the earlier success of Covey, said: “In fairness, they booked me about 10 days ago. I thought I could have been in Ireland for the Guineas but things didn’t materialise, so I was straight on the phone to say that I’d go to Haydock.
“He was the champion two year old last year and the 2000 Guineas proved too far for him, but he won in good style today. He quickened up well for hands and heels and it’s a big boost for the Commonwealth.
“I’ll be honest, I eased up in the last few yards as the job was done, that was a good performance ahead of next month. He’s got big figures in the book and he’s come back to his best today – he’ll be a big favourite.
“He looked magnificent beforehand, we tried the Guineas and it didn’t work out, so we’re back to sprinting now.
“He showed today he is a sprinter – he is built like one and goes like one.
As regards keeping the ride, Dettori is not too confident.
He concluded: “I don’t think Ryan (Moore) is going to give me this one! I was very pleased to ride him today and wish him all the best.”
Covey (6-4 Favourite) marked himself out as a horse to follow this term, after making a mockery of his opening handicap mark of 90 with a front-running success in the £100,000 Betfred Silver Bowl Handicap at Haydock Park on Saturday (27th May).
The three year old, who is trained by John and Thady Gosden, arrived here having won a pair of seven furlong minor races in impressive style in April and May and he took the step up to a mile in his stride here under Frankie Dettori, quickly setting the tempo up front.
Dettori soon upped the tempo in the home straight and Convey picked up impressively for a three and a quarter length success, with the winning jockey hinting in the aftermath that an engagement at Royal Ascot could be on the cards next for Juddmonte’s homebred son of Frankel.
He said: “He’s going the right way. He was a difficult horse six months ago, he ran off the gallop with me in October, but he’s getting his act together and is improving all the time.
“I was doing good fractions for the first bit and had plenty underneath me when we made the turn. I was always in control from then and when I asked him to respond, he put a good race to bed in good fashion.
“At the moment, I think the plan is the Britannia but he is also in the Jersey and other races. I am very pleased to ride him – he’s an improving horse.”
“You need a decent horse to win this kind of race.”
Elsewhere on the card, it proved to be an opportune start to the afternoon for Hollie Doyle, who picked up a very useful spare ride when guiding the Hugo Palmer-trained Solent Gateway (5-1) to a pillar-to-post success in the Betfred TV Hell Nook Handicap over two miles.
Doyle controlled the pace from the outset and having quickened for home at the three furlong pole, the son of Awtaad found admirably on the far side rail for a gallant three-quarters of a length success.
And while delighted, Doyle conceded after the race that she had rather benefitted from jockey Neil Callan’s misfortune with the traffic.
She said: “Neil (Callan) got stuck in traffic unfortunately, I was probably the only one in the weighing room left without a ride! I knew the horse quite well because I’ve ridden against him a couple of times, but I just stuck to what the boss said.”
The opening race on the card was the Betfred Supports Jack Berry House Florida Handicap over a mile and a half, in which In The Breeze (9-2) provided a much welcomed winner for trainer Mick Appleby.
The East Midlands trainer hadn’t saddled a winner for a considerable stretch by his own high standards, with his last success coming at Southwell on the 14th April.
The five year old still had plenty to do approaching the final furlong, but he produced an excellent late burst of speed to get up within the shadow of the post – much to the delight of his trainer.
He said: “He’s a bit highly strung so we just have to try and keep a bit of a lid on him, but Ray (Dawson) has given him a great ride.
“When they were absolutely crawling I thought it wasn’t going to suit us here as it would turn into a sprint, but he’s picked up well. He just needs to relax a bit – he’s like me!
“We’ve been knocking on the door a bit recently, but we had a very busy winter so you’d expect a bit of a quiet time – albeit it was a bit longer than normal!”
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