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Newcastle report: Victory Heights heading for Royal Ascot assignment

Tue 2 Jun 2020

Victory Heights could be another nice one for James Tate and PJ McDonald following a taking debut success at Newcastle.

Invincible Army was a flag bearer for the pair in recent seasons, but with the sprinter now retired to stud there is a gap to be filled.

With Royal Ascot coming up so quickly this year all juveniles who win in the coming days will have the big meeting as a target, and while it remains to be seen how strong division two of the Betway/British Stallion Studs EBF Maiden was, the winner’s future looks bright.

“He’s a lovely horse despite not being a thing of beauty!” said Tate from his Newmarket base.

“Saeed (Manana, owner) picked him out himself from Book Two (Tattersalls Sales) and we joked about his looks and the way he walked, but he does have a lovely temperament.

“PJ sat on him last week and liked him and I was thinking if he won we’d be looking at Ascot.

“Ascot will be different this year, although ironically the buzz of the crowd wouldn’t have bothered him one iota.

“I was thinking he’d progress to six furlongs there having started over five, but given how he quickened up I now think a stiff five at Ascot might suit.

“Whether that is for the Windsor Castle or Norfolk, we’ll see how the times and form compares to the other races.”

Former jockey Philip Makin made a successful start to his training career last season and also looks likely to head down south as Muker (20-1) held off the late challenge of Significantly to win the first division.

Despite showing signs of playfulness in the paddock, the son of Mehmas was professional enough in the race.

The 3-1 favourite got flying late on, but Makin’s newcomer held on by a neck.

Winning jockey Paul Mulrennan said: “He’s done it very well. He’s got a great mind and a good attitude, he’s done everything right and it was quite easy for him.”

Makin’s partner, Sammy Jo Bell, said: “Muker was supposed to go to Doncaster, he was ready to go the first day and Phil’s done a good job to keep him ticking along nicely until now.

“He’s been really good at home, we’ve done plenty with him and we make sure they know their job, which he did today. He’s been really professional and he couldn’t have done it nicer. The owner will be absolutely thrilled to go to Ascot – if he won or ran well today that was the plan.”

Karl Burke’s Dandalla (7-1) was a clear-cut winner of the first division of the fillies’ maiden.

A second success on the card for Ben Curtis following the earlier victory of Sir Busker, she will also head to Ascot, along with Significantly, of whom Burke spoke of in glowing terms.

“Significantly is a lovely colt while the filly will be better over six,” said Burke.

“She’s handle quicker ground, but I think the colt might want a bit of juice in the ground.

“I think the colt, who was in front two strides past the line, will get in at Ascot but the ground would be key. I wouldn’t want it too quick, if it is we might think of the Prix Robert Papin. The filly will go to Ascot.”

Mark Johnston, out of luck on the opening day, soon made amends and following a double at Kempton took the second division of the fillies’ maiden with Pelekai.

Franny Norton grabbed the rail on the daughter of Kodiac and the result was soon put to bed. Assistant trainer Jock Bennett said: “Pelekai had been working very well at home.

“We’ve done it a few years now where we’ve kicked off with winners that have gone on to win at Ascot, so let’s hope this is the same.”

There were Ascot pointers among the older horses as well, with Sir Busker a landmark winner for William Knight in the Betway Handicap.

Knight has been based in Sussex in his career to date but moved to Newmarket during lockdown and Sir Busker (13-2) was his first winner and the first leg of a double of Ben Curtis, who also rode Dandalla.

Sam Hoskins, of owner Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds, said: “We’re delighted, it’s so nice for the owners who have been very patient, he was supposed to be going for the Lincoln, but obviously that was never going to happen.

“I’m so pleased for William, too, to get his first winner from his new yard, it’s an emotional day.”

Hoskins added: “Hopefully he might go to Royal Ascot now, for the Hunt Cup or something.”

It would be no surprise should Sir Michael Stoute’s Mubakker (7-4 favourite) end up at Ascot either, if the ground is suitable.

So far the lightly-raced colt has only won on the all-weather and disappointed on his only run on soft.

Jockey Dane O’Neill said: “The only time he has disappointed on grass was on soft ground and on his breeding you’d suggest that if he’s to go on the turf, he’d want a sounder surface.”

Hollie Doyle and Archie Watson hit a double courtesy of Canagat (3-1 favourite) and Medal Winner (13-2), while Tim Easterby followed up a winner on Monday when Al Erayg (12-1) won the opening Betway-sponsored one-mile handicap.

Richard Fahey was another to bag himself a winner on the opening two days as Gabrial The One (13-2) was a decisive victor in the Betway Handicap over 12 furlongs for David Nolan.

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