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Hills savouring Derby challenge with Sonny Liston

Charlie Hills will saddle his first Cazoo Derby runner on Saturday as Sonny Liston lines up in a special renewal of the Epsom Classic.

The Lawman colt was a five-and-a-half-length winner on his sole juvenile outing at Sandown last July and stepped up in both trip and class when making his seasonal debut in the Listed Feilden Stakes at Newmarket in April, a race in which he finished fourth behind Roger Varian’s Eydon.

Chester’s Dee Stakes, another Listed contest, followed and Sonny Liston came home third behind Aidan O’Brien’s Star Of India – missing out on the runner-up spot by just a head.

Champion conditional Marco Ghiani was in the saddle for each of those runs, but Tom Marquand will take up the reins at Epsom on Saturday and has partnered the horse in his preparations on the gallops this week.

Sonny Liston winning at Sandown
Sonny Liston winning at Sandown (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Sonny’s in great form. Tom Marquand came and sat on him for the first time on Tuesday and they did a six-furlong piece of work, he was very happy,” said Hills, who is a William Hill ambassador.

“He’s quite a laid back horse, he’s not too hard on himself and he just went through the motions nicely.

“He’s come out of Chester well, I think he will have learnt plenty from going around there. He was a bit green coming round the first bend and he lost quite a bit of ground, but he showed a nice turn of foot coming into the straight.

“There will be quite a few runners but we’re hoping for a nice draw and hopefully a bit of luck in running.”

Sonny Liston is owned by Chelsea Thoroughbreds, who have backed Hills’ Lambourn operation since he took over the licence from his father Barry in 2011.

Barry Hills was a hugely successful trainer who won an array of Group and Classic prizes in Britain, Ireland and France, but a Derby victory evaded him, with the trainer saddling four second-placed horses in Hawaiian Sound, Rheingold, Glacial Storm and Blue Stag.

Naturally the Derby features highly on any Flat trainer’s list of lifelong dreams, but Charlie Hills does not believe his father’s luckless record in the race has made him even keener to taste Epsom glory.

“Of course you want to win the Derby, but it doesn’t make me want to win it more because of that,” he said.

“It’s nice to have horses who can compete in the race and if we do our job well, hopefully there will be more opportunities to try to win it.

“It’s great, I’ve never had a runner – I’ve hardly had an entry in the race. It’s brilliant to have a runner and even better to have one for Chelsea Thoroughbreds, who have been great supporters since I took over. It’s fitting that the horse should be theirs.”

A first runner in the Derby is an occasion in itself, but the race has an added lustre this year as it is part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

Epsom is set to be full to capacity and win, lose or draw, Hills is hoping to come away from the meeting having learnt more about Sonny Liston, who will run over a mile and a half for the first time in the race.

He said: “It’s fantastic, what a year to have your first horse in it. It’s the Jubilee weekend, it’s great to be involved and I’m honoured to have a runner there this year. Hopefully the rain will stay off and it’ll be a great day.

“We’re all learning still, it’s his fourth ever start and his first time over a mile and a half – either way we’re going to learn a lot about him for the future.”

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