Decorated Knight made an impressive return to action with a cosy short-head victory in the in the £45,000 Listed Betway Winter Derby Trial Stakes (3.05pm) on Polytrack at Lingfield Park on Saturday, February 4.
In winning the 10-furlong Polytrack contest, the Roger Charlton-trained five-year-old receives a free and automatic place in the £200,000 Betway Easter Classic over the same course and distance on All-Weather Championships Finals Day, Good Friday, April 14.
Decorated Knight, making his All-Weather debut, had shown a high level of form on turf, including when taking the G3 Meld Stakes at Leopardstown, Ireland, on his previous outing in July.
Always prominent in the eight-runner race for Andrea Atzeni, the 9/2 chance ran on powerfully to take a clear advantage inside the final half-furlong and held off the late renewed thrust of 9/4 favourite Arab Spring (Sir Michael Stoute/Ryan Moore), who had led into the straight, in 2m 1.55s.
There was with a length and a quarter back to the third Battalion (5/2, Osborne/George Baker), who finished well after racing in last. Grendisar (3/1, Marco Botti/Adam Kirby), the winner of this race for the last two years, also kept on to be a short-head away in fourth.
Decorated Knight, by Galileo, holds an entry in the G3 Betway Derby (10f, February 25), but could head out to Dubai for Group One engagements at the Dubai World Cup Carnival next month.
Harry Charlton, assistant to his father Roger, said: “Decorated Knight had 205 days off and a lot of those other horses have been running through the winter.
“They were obviously entitled to be sharper than he was but Andrea said that he only gave the horse two slaps down the shoulder and always thought that he had them covered.
“He can idle in front. George Baker has ridden him in work and told Andrea that, when you send him, send him. Andrea didn’t want to give him a hard race and thought that he always had it covered – Arab Spring nearly got back to him but Andrea didn’t have to get too serious, which was good.
“He went out to run in the Arlington Million (G1, USA) last August having won the Meld Stakes in July. An unfortunate incident happened overnight – none of us know how but somehow he got out of his box, cut his leg, and couldn’t run on the day. He’s back now and there is no harm done.
“He will take a bit of stopping in the Winter Derby if he stays here for it and the other option is the G1 Jebel Hatta at Meydan on March 4. That’s a prep-race for the Dubai Turf (G1 – March 25) and it can come up quite a weak G1 race, with often seven or eight runners.
“The Jebel Hatta is quite a valuable proposition for a Galileo entire who is very closely related to Gleneagles. That is something to consider and Andrea will discuss it with Tony Nerses [racing manager to Saleh Al Homaizi and Imad Al Sagar] and the owners.
“Depending on how the Jebel Hatta went, you could also consider running on Dubai World Cup Night in the Dubai Turf.”
Andrea Atzeni added: “Decorated Knight is a horse who is getting better as he is getting older. Mentally, he is growing a lot and, physically, he is getting bigger.
“He did it quite well – I know he only won by a short-head but I was quite easy on him.
“He hasn’t run since July and we didn’t want to give him a hard time today because he is a horse for the future.
“I had a good draw [stall 1], which is very important around here, especially over 10 furlongs. I held my draw – we went a good gallop and, turning in, I found myself behind Ryan. I thought he was the one to follow and Decorated Knight picked him quite well.
“Once he got his head in front, he thought that he had done enough but hopefully there will be a lot more to come from him.
“It was a very tight race. I really liked my horse but there were a few others in the race that has done well on the All-Weather and Sir Michael’s horse. It was a good race.”
Lancelot Du Lac got up on the line to gain a first Listed success in a blanket finish to the day’s other feature race, the £45,000 Betway Best Odds Guaranteed Plus Cleves Stakes (2.00pm) over six furlongs.
The Dean Ivory-trained seven-year-old, who scored on his return from a six-month break at Chelmsford City on January 5, quickened strongly for Robert Winston inside the final furlong to collar Mythmaker (16/1, Bryan Smart/Paul Mulrennan) in the final stride and prevail by a nose at odds of 11/2.
Boom The Groom (20/1, Tony Carroll/Andrea Atzeni) finished a neck further back in third with the same margins back to the fourth home Gracious John (8/1, David Evans/Adam Kirby) and 4/5 favourite Pretend (Charlie Appleby/William Buick) in fifth. The winning time was 1m 10.12s.
Ivory said: “I am really thrilled with that. Lancelot Du Lac came round the bend a bit wide and I wondered if he was ever going to pick up. If I am honest, I didn’t know that he was going to win and I am a bit in shock but it’s brilliant.
“When you bring a horse back after a long time and, particularly with an older horse, they don’t tell you as much on the gallops. He was working well at home before he ran at Chelmsford – but not brilliantly or outstanding – but they wake up when they come to the racetrack. After that last run, we knew that he was in good heart coming into today.
“That was a tough race – I think it was nearly as good as the Final will be – and he did it lovely. There was a bit of luck on our side today but the horse and Robert get on so well together, they delivered just in time.
“He needs to have another run to qualify for Good Friday and we will look at the Hever Sprint (Listed FTQ, 5f) back here in three weeks’ time. He should be qualified with that run whether he wins or not because of his rating.
“We sent Lancelot Du Lac to Childwickbury Stud and he had three and a bit months there, so we let him completely down. Max Weston, who runs the stud, really looked after him for us. I think that break, which he doesn’t normally have, just gives us a little bit more in hand.
“I think this is definitely his year and the best he has ever been. An older horse doesn’t normally grow but he did during his break. That was the first time he has ever really been let down and I think he is bigger and stronger this year.”
Robert Winston commented: “It was a bit of a messy race, so I was forced to make my move before the home bend. Gracious John was hanging right, so I had to go upsides and shunt him back in because I would have been taken off course otherwise.
“Lancelot Du Lac has held on gamely and the six furlongs has given him more of a chance. He could have done with a stronger gallop as well.”