Eight runners are set to line up in the £20,000 Betway Conditions Stakes (2.00pm) at Newcastle on Wednesday, December 21.
The two-mile contest on Tapeta is the first Fast-Track Qualifier in the Betway-sponsored Marathon category of the All-Weather Championships.
The winner of Wednesday’s race 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.
Royal Ascot winner Oriental Fox (Mark Johnston/Joe Fanning) is out to bounce back after finishing ninth in a two-mile Polytrack handicap at Kempton Park on November 16 – his first All-Weather start.
The eight-year-old looked as good as ever on his previous start when powering to a three-length victory in a conditions event over two miles and two furlongs on turf at Pontefract on October 17, his first success since capturing the 2015 Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot over an extended two miles and five furlongs.
Charlie Johnston, assistant trainer to his father, said today: “Oriental Fox is in good form. He obviously ran a bit disappointingly at Kempton on his last start, having won on turf before that.
“He is a fairly old horse at this stage and is not getting any younger. We have been quite persuasive with his owner Markus Graff that we may as well enjoy him while we have got him and keep him going through the winter.
“There are some valuable prizes and a horse of his calibre should be very competitive during the All-Weather Championships.
“Two miles around a big galloping track like Newcastle should suit. It was obviously a turf track when he ran a screamer in the 2013 Northumberland Plate [beaten a short-head]. That sort of track and trip is his ideal, whereas Kempton is a bit sharper and the fact it was a slowly run race didn’t help.”
Also set to go to post on Wednesday are Star Storm (James Fanshawe/Tom Queally), successful in the Group 3 Cumberland Lodge Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2015, and recent Cesarewitch runner-up First Mohican (Alan King/Hollie Doyle).
Godolphin is represented by Winning Story (Saeed bin Suroor/Pat Cosgrave), while Newmarket handler Roger Varian saddles Steve Rogers (Jack Mitchell), successful over two miles on Polytrack at Kempton Park in April.
An interesting contender is Guard Of Honour (George Baker/Robert Winston), who has only made one appearance so far in 2016 when fourth in the Irish November Handicap at Leopardstown.
Completing the field are Gang Warfare (Jamie Osborne/Patrick Mathers), successful in a valuable 14-furlong Tapeta handicap at Wolverhampton in March, and Buthelezi (Brian Ellison/Ben Curtis), who has won on the Flat, over hurdles and over fences.
Newcastle’s eight-race programme on Wednesday, December 21, gets underway at 1.30pm and goes through to 5.00pm. Other highlights include the five-furlong £19,000 Betway Handicap (4.30pm, 10 runners).
There is also valuable All-Weather action at Chelmsford City on Thursday, December 22. The highlight is £45,000 Weatherbys Stallion Book Conditions Stakes (2.20pm, 17 entries), staged over seven furlongs for three-year-olds and upwards.
Last season’s 32Red All-Weather Fillies & Mares Championships heroine Volunteer Point (Mick Channon), Group 2 winner Donjuan Triumphant (Richard Fahey) and Listed-placed performers You’re Fired (Karl Burke) and Dragon Mall (David Simcock) are all entered.