Matchbook Brigadier Gerard Stakes | G3 | 1m2f | ITV4/RUK
Poet's Word takes a drop in trip and class in a bid to get his head in front for the first time in nearly ten months in a race his trainer Sir Michael Stoute has won eight times.
Poet's Word, photo Liesl King
The five-year-old could not be in better hands, a verdict that also applies to the saddle as he is reunited with Ryan Moore, the only jockey to have won on him.
Although he has not stood in the winner's circle since Glorious Goodwood last year, Poet's Word has been a model of consistency at Group 1 level all over the world since then.
After finishing runner-up in the English and Irish Champion Stakes, Poet's Word went on to run with great credit when sixth in the Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin, where he came from an outside draw.
Most recently, Saeed Suhail's horse had to settle for the silver medal again behind Hawkbill in the Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan in March.
Stoute, whose roll of honour in the 1m2f test includes Pilsudski (1996), Workforce (2011) and Autocratic a year ago, said: "Poet's Word has been in good shape at home and will like the ground.
"We're coming back in trip but he's been showing plenty of speed in his work and we expect him to be very competitive."
Michael Bell provides the chief opposition to Poet's Word with Fabricate, and the trainer is hoping for better luck than when the Queen's runner took on another Stoute hotpot at the track last time.
The seven-year-old just lost out in a titanic tussle with Crystal Ocean in the Group 3 Gordon Richards Stakes that day, form that was given a boost when the winner bolted up at Newbury last weekend.
Prior to his Sandown near miss, Fabricate had turned over the well-fancied Stoute runner Autocratic in the Listed Magnolia Stakes at Kempton in March, but Bell still reckons he has a score to settle.
The trainer said: "I reckon it's 1-1 between me and Sir Michael and it's a question of who can edge it this time. It's a competitive race this year but Fabricate goes there in great nick and will be better on this quick ground as it was soft at Sandown."
The classy Mukhadram won this race for Hamdan Al Maktoum in 2013 and the owner is represented by Laraaib, who is the least experienced in the field with just four outings to his name.
The son of Pivotal has won three of those starts and is in the 'could be anything' category, but may well come on for his first outing since last August.
Trainer Owen Burrows is a former assistant to Poet's Word's trainer Stoute and is under no illusions about the task ahead.
He said: "He has a bit to find on BHA ratings and I had him in a couple of races at the weekend at Goodwood, but Jim Crowley and Dane O'Neill weren't available then, so we've diverted here so that Jim can renew their association.
"He's been off a while and is entitled to improve from it, and he'd also appreciate a mile and a half in time."
David Simcock was second a year ago with Algometer and this time he fields the much-travelled Desert Encounter, whose career-best effort came at this track last July when he was third to Ulysses in the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse Stakes.
The six-year-old was ninth, when Poet's Word was second, on his reappearance in the Sheema Classic and he has a penalty for winning a Group 3 at Newbury last September.
Simcock said: "It will be tough carrying a penalty but we know Desert Encounter likes the track and he goes there in great order."
Air Pilot, who carries a 5lb penalty for winning a Group 2 at Longchamp in April, completes the line-up.
Trainer Ralph Beckett said: “We're hoping for some rain. There aren’t many opportunities for him at Sandown and the track will suit him, but it’s not an easy task with a Group 2 penalty against the likes of Poet’s Word.”
Thursday’s ITV4-televised Sandown meeting will be the first evening card to be shown on a terrestrial television channel for 21 years.
Not since the mid-1990s has evening racing been shown. The BBC’s experiment started on a Tuesday in May 1995, when Sue Barker and Julian Wilson hosted three Ascot jumps races, in which the opening contest, a novices' handicap chase, was won by a 20-1 outsider partnered by a then young, and still a long way from being knighted, Tony McCoy.
Later that year, there was a 90-minute Ascot Flat programme, but the evening curtain came down on Friday, April 25, 1997, when BBC2 broadcast three jumps races, again from Ascot, on a special card honouring departing Tote chairman Woodrow Wyatt.