Lord North returns from almost a year off the track to headline a top-class renewal of the Betway Winter Derby at Lingfield on Saturday.
John and Thady Gosden’s six-year-old landed the Prince of Wales’s Stakes in 2020 and was a hugely impressive winner of the Dubai Duty Free last year. In a race first staged in 1998 and won by Running Stag, Lord North is the highest-rated runner ever to take part.
However, he has not been seen since Meydan last March and Robert Havlin, who takes the mount with Frankie Dettori at the Saudi Cup, hopes he is fit enough to do himself justice.
Havlin said: “I’m looking forward to getting back on him, I’ve won on him four times having ridden him six times so I know him well.
“I rode him on Wednesday morning on the grass and he feels in good shape and ready to kick on.
“He’s a class act on his day. If he turns up the Lord North of old then he’s going to be pretty hard to beat, but obviously he could be a little bit rusty as he hasn’t run for a year.
“Looking at the field, Alenquer might be running over a trip on the short side for him so he needs to overcome that and we need to overcome the lay off, so hopefully it will be a good race to watch.”
The aforementioned Alenquer finished second to Mishriff in the Juddmonte International and was last seen running with credit in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. But William Haggas fears 10 furlongs and a short straight might just catch him out.
“It’s a really good race, even if our horse and Lord North weren’t there it would be bang up to scratch,” said Haggas.
“I’m not sure 10 furlongs at Lingfield is going to suit ours to be honest, but he needs a blow and this will be the absolute minimum for him as he stays really well.
“I’d like to give him a race before the (Dubai) Sheema Classic so that is why we are here, but he is very well and he’s been working nicely – he’ll run a good race.
“I personally think he’s more of mile-and-a-half horse but my son (Sam), who tends to know about things like this, pointed out his best two runs last year were over a mile and a quarter.
“He was second to Mishriff in the Juddmonte, albeit a long way behind, and he beat the Derby winner Adayar and Lone Eagle and Yibir in the Sandown Classic Trial. So that gives us hope.
“I wouldn’t like to plan too far in advance, but hopefully it’s the Sheema Classic next and I think John’s horse is having a prep for the Dubai Duty Free he won last year. So I’m not sure either will be absolutely at their best, but they are two very good horses.”
Richard Hannon’s Fancy Man got the better of Alenquer as a two-year-old, is unbeaten on the all-weather at Lingfield and has race fitness on his side.
“We were very pleased with his last run and he would have needed that. We decided not to go to Qatar and stay here for this race,” said Hannon.
“It looks like it will be a hot race, but I suppose it should be.
“He has been very consistent and he appears to like it around there on that surface.
“The trip is fine and hopefully they will go a bit quicker than they did in his last race.
“I don’t know what the plans are for the rest of the year. Obviously we will have to qualify if we want to go to the Easter Classic and then there is a Group Three at Newbury. We will do it race by race more than anything.”
In any other year the Archie Watson-trained Al Zaraqaan would be among the favourites, but he has ground to make on on Fancy Man from their last meeting.
“He’s in good form and has come out of his last race well,” said Cosmo Charlton of owners Hambleton Racing.
“He ran well in the Winter Derby Trial. I just felt the race didn’t pan out that well for him as he had to make his own running, which we didn’t think would happen, and he got caught on the inside rail turning in when clearly you wanted to be down the middle of the track that day – where the winner was.
“We’ll see what happens, but I think Finals Day at Newcastle will be on the agenda.”
William Knight’s King Of The South is another top all-weather performer.
“It is clearly a step up on what King Of The South has been running in, but there are not many other options for him at the moment,” said Knight.
“It is going to be very hard to get close to Lord North but hopefully, with a stronger pace, we can close the gap on Fancy Man.
“After this, you have the Magnolia Stakes at Kempton and then the final at Newcastle, and I think both of those tracks will suit King Of The South more than Lingfield.”