Haydock preview: Little Big Bear seeks redemption in Sandy Lane

Fri 26 May 2023

Little Big Bear bids to get his season back on track in a fascinating renewal of the Betfred Nifty Fifty Sandy Lane Stakes at Haydock on Saturday.

Narrowly beaten on his debut last spring, Aidan O’Brien’s colt went on to win his next four races, with a stunning display in the Phoenix Stakes ensuring he ended the year as Europe’s champion juvenile.

Following nine months off the track, O’Brien decided to roll the dice in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket three weeks ago, but the son of No Nay Never pulled fiercely for his head in the rain-softened ground on the Rowley Mile and eventually passed the post last of 14 runners.

Despite that disappointing performance, Little Big Bear is a hot favourite to get back on the winning trail on Merseyside, returning to six furlongs on a quickening surface in the hands of Frankie Dettori.

O’Brien said: “We’re looking forward to seeing him run again.

“It was a possibility that he’d return to sprinting and the Guineas was just a little bit of a non-event for him.

“We felt that if he was going to go for the Commonwealth (Cup at Royal Ascot), then he had to have a run back sprinting before then, so that is why he’s back here.

“It will be nice to get him back on a bit of nice ground and we’ve been very happy with him at home, obviously the Guineas wasn’t that long ago but we’re happy with what he’s done since.”

Little Big Bear is unlikely to have things all his own way in the six-furlong Group Two, with a clutch of high-class contenders prepared to take him on.

Bradsell and Hollie Doyle (right) winning the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot
Bradsell and Hollie Doyle (right) winning the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot

The horse rated the biggest threat by bookmakers is the Archie Watson-trained Bradsell, who was brilliant in winning the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot last summer and then suffered a season-ending injury when fourth behind Little Big Bear in the Phoenix Stakes.

There was plenty of encouragement to be taken from his comeback run when third behind the reopposing Cold Case in the Commonwealth Cup Trial at Ascot and Watson expects him to strip fitter for that run.

“I’m very happy with him. He travelled very well at Ascot and got a bit tired late, which was to be expected. I hope he can take a good step forwards fitness-wise from there,” said the Lambourn handler.

“It looks a very strong trial for the Commonwealth Cup. I’d say whatever wins will be the one to beat at Ascot, so at least we’ll all know after the weekend.

“We’re delighted with our horse, so fingers crossed.”

Cold Case’s trainer Karl Burke is expecting another bold showing from his charge, despite having reservations about underfoot conditions.

He said: “It looks a competitive race, but he’s in great form.

“Quicker ground is probably slightly against him, but he’s going to have to face that at some stage and we are very happy with him at home.

“Fingers crossed he can run a big race.”

Little Big Bear is one of two Irish-trained runners along with Kieran Cotter’s Matilda Picotte.

The Sioux Nation filly drops back in distance following an excellent effort to finish third in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket earlier in the month.

“Her Guineas run puts her in the picture and we should be bang there. Her run in Newmarket was an exceptional performance off the pace she set,” said Cotter.

Matilda Picotte winning at the Curragh
Matilda Picotte winning at the Curragh

“In an ideal situation we would have liked a bit of rain, but she handled quick ground when she ran at York in the Lowther and she is pretty versatile.

“We’re looking forward to it and hope we come home with a bit of sterling.”

George Boughey saddles Al Dasim, who won three times at Meydan earlier in the year before finishing down the field in the Al Quoz Sprint on Dubai World Cup night.

Norfolk Stakes winner The Ridler (Richard Fahey), Shouldvebeenaring (Richard Hannon) and Mill Stream (Jane Chapple-Hyam) complete the quality field.

Varian expects The Platinum Queen to improve

Roger Varian has warned The Platinum Queen will likely improve for the run on her eagerly-anticipated reappearance and stable debut in the Betfred Temple Stakes at Haydock on Saturday.

The Cotai Glory filly’s quality is not in question, following a fantastic juvenile campaign last season for trainer Richard Fahey and owners Middleham Park Racing.

During a busy first year The Platinum Queen won four of eight starts, including a Group One victory against her elders in the Prix de l’Abbaye, while she also finished second in the Nunthorpe at York.

Having since changed hands for 1.2million guineas, the three-year-old will carry the colours of Katsumi Yoshida on her first start for Varian, who while happy with the filly, is expecting the run to “put her right” for a likely appearance at Royal Ascot next month.

“She’s ready to start and looks a picture, (but) she will likely need a run,” he said.

“She’s obviously new to us, but Richard Fahey has been very helpful I have to say.

“She’s quite a highly-strung filly, so we’ve had to feel our way with her through the spring and a lot of the horses are just coming forward from their first outing.

“I think she’ll run a nice race, the track and the speed test should suit her and I think the run will put her right.”

Mitbaahy after winning at Sandown last season
Mitbaahy after winning at Sandown last season

Varian has a second string to his bow in the five-furlong Group Two in the form of Mitbaahy.

The son of Profitable won at Listed and Group Three level last term before finishing down the field behind The Platinum Queen on Arc weekend in Paris.

Varian added: “He’s a really nice horse and he should improve again as a four-year-old. I think he could be a really exciting sprinter for the season.

“Again, he’s likely to come on for the run and he’d probably prefer a bit more give in the ground, but we’re trapping on, it’s nearly June and these horses have got to get their season started.

“He’s a nice horse we like for the months ahead, it’s a good starting point and the run will probably straighten him up.”

Dramatised makes her return for Karl Burke
Dramatised makes her return for Karl Burke

Another key runner making her seasonal debut is the Karl Burke-trained Dramatised.

The three-year-old was brilliant in winning the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot and was last seen being beaten just a length into second place in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, a race in which The Platinum Queen failed to fire.

Burke said: “She looks in great shape and she’s ready to run. Obviously it’s a prep run for Royal Ascot, but I expect her to run a nice race.

“I’ve been very happy with her at home. It’s her first time taking on older horses and it won’t be an easy race, but hopefully she can acquit herself well.”

One horse for whom there are no fitness fears is Live In The Dream, who proved he is capable of mixing it at Pattern level when narrowly beaten by Vadream in the Palace House Stakes at Newmarket last month.

Trainer Adam West said: “I’m very pleased with him, he had a nice, easy time after Newmarket, he bounced back last week and is now back to the same sort of level he was going to the Palace House.

“Newmarket wouldn’t have suited him as well with that dip and the stiff finish, but we’re now we’re on an even keel, fast track and hopefully we’re going to be there or thereabouts.

“We weren’t originally going to go to the Palace House, but his confidence was so high after his two wins at Lingfield and Pontefract we thought we’d give it a crack and this has been the plan since.”

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