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Lion Of War steps up for Superlative challenge

Lion Of War will bid to enhance an already lofty reputation when he takes on four rivals in Saturday’s bet365 Superlative Stakes at Newmarket.

A son of Roaring Lion, he signalled himself a smart prospect when powering to a 10-length win in a novice race on the all-weather at Newcastle over the same seven-furlong trip he will encounter on the July course.

Purchased for just 7,000 guineas at Tattersalls last October, the Qatar Racing-owned Lion Of War bids for a hat-trick in the Group Two contest, having landed a maiden on his debut at Leicester.

Charlie Johnston, who trains the colt in partnership with his father, Mark, says the Middleham Moor team are looking forward to seeing him take on better company.

“Obviously he has been very impressive on both starts,” said Johnson. “You can’t get carried away with the form – he has won two pretty weak contests, but the manner in which he has done it has been very impressive and we felt he was ready for a step up in class.

“This was an obvious spot to come to and we are looking forward to testing him in deeper waters.”

Charlie Johnston says the team can dream a little if Lion Of War wins
Charlie Johnston says the team can dream a little if Lion Of War wins (Mike Egerton/PA)

His opponents include a promising maiden in the Michael Bell-trained, once-raced For A Laugh, and with Victory Dance and Isaac Shelby unbeaten, and Dark Thirty also having scored on his debut, the race could again prove to be a marker for next season’s Classics.

Johnston added: “I have certainly seen deeper renewals in terms of quantity, and it is hard to know how strong it is in terms of quality because there are three who have a very similar profile to us, who are unbeaten at the moment, so who knows how good they are?

“I think Lion Of War deserves his place in the line-up and we’ll find out how good he is. We can dream a little if he wins.”

Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation have won this race on six occasions, including the last two renewals, and trainer Charlie Appleby is hoping Victory Dance can follow in the footsteps of Dubawi, Quorto and Native Trail, who all graduated to Group One honours on their next start.

Victory Dance, a son of 2004 winner Dubawi, already has course-winning experience, taking a novice over the same trip last month.

“We were pleased with Victory Dance’s debut and he has definitely come forward for the run mentally,” Appleby told www.godolphin.com.

“He looks the type of horse who is going to progress physically as the season goes on, but it was always the plan to take this well-trodden route with him. We have been very happy with his preparation.”

Christophe Soumillon comes in for the ride on Dark Thirty, who scored in a six-furlong Newbury maiden for Richard Hannon on debut before a fair fifth in the Chesham at Royal Ascot.

Completing the line-up is Isaac Shelby, who looked a smart prospect in taking an extended six-furlong novice at Newbury on debut.

The Night Of Thunder colt beat 10 rivals, including a couple of subsequent winners, in good to soft ground that day and trainer Brian Meehan feels the likely quicker ground will not be a problem.

He said: “It is going to be different ground, but I don’t have any concerns on that score. He is in very good shape and working great. The form of the Newbury race is working out great.

“He’s a lovely horse and it is a natural next step for him. Whether he is a Guineas prospect or not, let’s wait and see what Saturday brings.”

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