bet365 Gordon Richards Stakes (Group 3) | 1m2f, 4yo+ | ITV4/RTV
Can Stoute's ninth winner becomes his tenth?
Nobody is better at getting the best from horses as they get older than Sir Michael Stoute, and you have only to look at the ten-time champion trainer's record in this race to see that.
Stoute is into his 47th year as a trainer and has used this contest as a springboard for numerous top-class performers such as Singspiel (1995), Ask (2008) and Ulysses (2017) to go on to greater things as they have matured and reached their physical peak.
Last year Crystal Ocean became Stoute's ninth winner of this race when touching off Fabricate, who reopposes, and he took his form to a new level with subsequent success in the Hardwicke at Royal Ascot and second-place finishes in the Champion Stakes and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, in which he was beaten by his year-older stablemate Poet’s Word.
Crystal Ocean winning the Hardwicke, photo Liesl King
Owned and bred by Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, Crystal Ocean escapes a 5lb penalty for his Ascot Group 2 victory and reunites with Ryan Moore – who has been beaten only once in five rides on the five-year-old – for the first time since June.
Can Trais Fluors stay the distance?
Andre Fabre, himself no stranger to big-race success with older horses, is using this early-season contest to experiment with Trais Fluors.
The five-year-old, owned and bred by Andreas Putsch, has enjoyed back-to-back wins on the all-weather and Fabre is hoping the step up in trip can open new avenues.
"He hasn't run many bad races and is a good, consistent horse," said the trainer. "The distance is a question mark, especially at a course like Sandown with its uphill finish, but we'll have an answer, and if he stays it opens up some doors.
"He's now five so he has strengthened a lot, he's in good shape and will run well."
Is there still more to come from Thundering Blue?
This time last year Thundering Blue was being beaten in a handicap at Epsom off a rating of 93, yet by the end of the year he was just touched off in a Grade 1 in Canada having earned a huge number of fans along the way.
The six-year-old, pride and joy of trainer David Menuisier and enthusiastic owner Clive Washbourn, was a revelation last season. He gained victories in the Group 2 York Stakes and Group 3 Stockholm Cup, as well as finishing second in the Woodbine International and third in the Juddmonte International.
Andrea Atzeni is back in the saddle for this reappearance run after Fran Berry, the third key member of last year's journey, retired this month due to injury.
Menuisier said: "We're very pleased with Thundering Blue. He had a good break over the winter and is as good as ever in the mornings.
"He likes Sandown and we're going there to try to win, but this is very much a starting point. He'll improve for the run."
What they say
Roger Charlton, trainer of Extra Elusive
He settled well last time and stayed on nicely to the line. He needs to step up considerably again on what he's done, but he's in good order and I think the track will suit.
Michael Bell, trainer of Fabricate
He just got chinned in the race last year and he's a wonderful old horse to have. Hopefully going back to Sandown he can put in another good run for Her Majesty.
Harry Dunlop, trainer of Knight To Behold
He's in good form and doesn't have to carry a penalty for his Group 2 win in France last season. I'm pleased to see some rain around. He enjoyed making the running when he won in France and we hope he's a stronger horse this year. It's a tough race but it'll be a good pointer as to where we go for the rest of the year.
Andrew Balding, trainer of Pivoine
Historically he's needed a run or two to put him straight so he'll improve for his run at Chelmsford. I'm hoping he could develop into a stakes horse as the season goes on.