The first Fast-Track Qualifier in the Marathon category of the All-Weather Championships takes place at Newcastle on Wednesday, December 21.
The winner of the £20,000 Betway Conditions Stakes (2.30pm, 13 entries), staged over two miles on Tapeta, will gain an automatic free place in the £150,000 Betway Marathon Championships over the same distance on Polytrack at Lingfield Park on All-Weather Championships Finals Day, Good Friday, April 14, 2017.
The 13 entries for Wednesday’s contest also include Star Storm (James Fanshawe), a G3 scorer over 12 furlongs at Ascot in 2015, and Oriental Fox (Mark Johnston), who has stamina in abundance, having won both the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot and Pontefract’s Phil Bull Trophy.
Johnston has also entered Watersmeet, who defied 9st 12lb to land a competitive Tapeta handicap over just short of a mile and three-quarters at Wolverhampton on December 3.
A fascinating entry is Guard Of Honour (George Baker). The regally-bred son of Galileo was last seen out when fourth in the valuable Irish November Handicap over a mile and seven furlongs at Leopardstown on October 29. That run was the five-year-old’s first start since finishing runner-up in the same race in 2015.
Guard Of Honour was successful in a two-mile novices’ hurdle at Stratford in April, 2015 and also landed a mile and five furlong handicap at Bath in September of the same year.
He has finished runner-up twice in three starts on the All-Weather in two-mile Polytrack handicaps at Kempton Park and Lingfield Park in the summer of 2015.
Baker, who is based at Manton in Wiltshire, said today: “It is the plan to run Guard Of Honour at Newcastle on Wednesday.
“We were thrilled with his run at Leopardstown last time out. He had been off for a year and to come back and travel through the race like he did was very exciting.
“He had the break imposed on him because of an annoying injury. He is back now and we will look at keeping him going through the winter – Good Friday would be an obvious target if we can get him there.
“I love the way he has thrived on his racing when we have got him to the track. He travels with so much enthusiasm. He has been quietly progressive in decent company and we hope there is a bit more to come.”
Other contenders include First Mohican (Alan King), runner-up in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket in October, four-time All-Weather winner Gang Warfare (Jamie Osborne), Godolphin’s Winning Story (Saeed bin Suroor) and Steve Rogers (Roger Varian), who has been successful three times on the All-Weather, including in a two-mile Polytrack handicap at Kempton Park in April.
Newcastle’s seven-race programme on Wednesday, December 21, gets underway at 2.00pm and runs through to 5.00pm. Other highlights include the five-furlong £19,000 Betway Handicap (4.30pm, 12 entries).