The fourth All-Weather Championships got underway at Lingfield Park today with an eight-race card headlined by the £40,000 Listed 32Red EBF Stallions Fleur De Lys Stakes (3.10pm), the first of 24 Fast-Track Qualifiers during the 2016/17 campaign.
The mile contest saw 10 runners line up and was won in fine style by market leader Muffri’ha, pictured above (William Haggas/Pat Cosgrave, 5/4 favourite) in the colours of Sheikh Juma Dalmook Al Maktoum.
Muffri’ha is now guaranteed a free start in the £150,000 32Red Fillies & Mares Championships over seven furlongs at Lingfield Park on Finals Day, Good Friday, April 14.
The four-year-old Iffraaj filly was a warm order on her All-Weather debut following her Group Three triumph last time out in the nine-furlong Darley Stakes at Newmarket on October 8. She jumped alertly today from her inside draw  and was soon allowed to dictate a steady pace by Pat Cosgrave.
There were plenty with chances approaching the home turn but class told entering the straight as Muffri’ha quickened clear. Runner-up Aljuljalah (Roger Varian/Andrea Atzeni, 9/1) stayed on well to reduce the winning margin to a length and three quarters, with a length back to Home Cummins (Richard Fahey/Tony Hamilton, 20/1) in third. The winning time was 1m 36.53s.
Maureen Haggas, wife of winning trainer William, said: “Muffri’ha has done it well and loved it around there. She hugged the rail and had a good draw, which helped.
“It has been extraordinary how she has improved so much and we don’t really know why.
“We always liked her, even as two-year-old, but she wasn’t very sound. Now she is just dead straightforward and it has been a bit frustrating that she has never done it until now. The last six weeks have been quite remarkable.
“She is going to have to have a break and I am not sure what else there is for her [between now and Finals Day] where she won’t be heavily penalised. That is for William to sort out.
“She is not short of speed so you would have to have go at the final. She has got plenty of form over shorter earlier in her career but she is actually bred to stay a bit further, which is why we have been stretching her out a bit.
“She has just improved and improved and it is great her owner has kept the faith and kept her in training. We hoped to win a Listed race so she has exceed expectations.”
Pat Cosgrave added: “Muffri’ha was the best filly in the race but had to carry a penalty for being the best filly in the race.
“She was a class above the rest of the field and when I got there she put the race to bed pretty quickly.
“The track or surface doesn’t matter to her, she is pretty versatile. Over the last six to eight weeks, she has really blossomed and is on a winning streak.
“She was a little slowly away but she had a nice draw which I didn’t want to give up. Once I got into a nice rhythm, it was pretty plain sailing.”
Four-year-old Dansili filly Bess Of Hardwick (Luca Cumani/Andrea Atzeni, 9/2), owned and bred by the Duke of Devonshire, backed up her handicap success at Doncaster last time out with a neck victory in the Listed 32Red EBF Stallions River Eden Fillies’ Stakes (4.10pm), also worth £40,000, over a mile and a five furlongs.
French challenger Dogma (Stephane Wattel/Adam Kirby, 25/1) looked to have stolen it when kicking clear off the bend but Atzeni gathered his mount and came with a well-timed run to get on top close home. Anzhelika (David Lanigan/George Baker, 11/2) was two and a half lengths further back in third.
Freddie Eccles-Williams, assistant to Luca Cumani, said: “The boss has been patient with Bess Of Hardwick and thankfully it has paid off.
“She likes a real galloping track and after Andrea rode her at Donny he said she likes to get her toe in as well.
“She is beautifully bred but hasn’t been the easiest to train. She will be a nice stayer next year if she stays in training.”
Lord Of The Land (David O’Meara/Danny Tudhope, 4/1) defied top-weight in the £19,000 sunbets.co.uk Handicap over seven furlongs. The five-year-old Shamardal horse has been running well in Pattern company for much of the summer, notably when third in G3 contests at Deauville and the Curragh.
He has translated that form to the All-Weather, coming from behind to win nicely over six furlongs at Kempton Park earlier this month, and making all the running today.
Tudhope said: “I got a lovely soft lead with no hassle upfront. I got it my own way and set a nice steady gallop. He has got a nice turn of foot – when I asked him to pick up, he picked up really well. He jumped well today. There was no pace in the race so I made it my own gallop.
“I think he could be a good All-Weather horse. A nice, sound surface suits him. It has taken time to get to know him but what we have learnt is that he likes fast ground or a nice sound surface.
“I think we could drop back in trip to six furlongs. He’s got enough speed and has good form – he could be very good on the All-Weather.”
There were three maiden races for two-year-olds over seven furlongs on the card and the pick of the winners looked to be Across Dubai (William Haggas/Pat Cosgrave, 6/1) in the second division of the 32Redsport.com British Stallion Studs EBF Maiden (2.40pm).
The Cape Cross debutant, running in the colours of Sheikh Juma Dalmook Al Maktoum, made good progress in the straight and brushed aside hot favourite Dubai Horizon (Saeed bin Suroor/Oisin Murphy, 2/9F) inside the final furlong to score by a length.
Maureen Haggas said: “Across Dubai did that well. Out of the two two-year-olds we ran today, he had probably done a bit more.
“He is straightforward and jumped well. Pat got him in a good position and he picked up nicely in the straight.
“It is up to William what he does now. He is probably done for the year but we might give him one more run. We will see.”