Mister Universe (pictured) clinched a place on All-Weather Championships Finals Day with a brave success in the £50,000 Ladbrokes Lady Wulfruna Stakes (2.50pm) at Wolverhampton on Saturday, March 12.
In winning the final Fast-Track Qualifier of the 2015/2016 All-Weather Championships, the four-year-old receives a free and automatic place in the £150,000 Ladbrokes Mile at Lingfield Park on Good Friday, March 25.
Sent off a 7/2 chance, the Mark Johnston-trained colt was always prominent and moved up to take the lead inside the final furlong under Joe Fanning on the far rail. The four-year-old son of Cape Cross was joined on the outside by 3/1 favourite Sovereign Debt (David Nicholls/Adrian Nicholls) shortly afterwards and the pair fought out a pulsating finish, with Mister Universe prevailing by a nose.
The winning time of 1m 25.35s was a new course record for seven furlongs and 32 yards on Tapeta, eclipsing the previous best by nearly seven-tenths of a second, as the front two finished a length and three quarters ahead of Realize (Stuart Williams/Sean Levey) in third out of the eight runners.
It was second All-Weather success in the space of a week for Mister Universe, who made all for an impressive in a mile handicap on Polytrack at Lingfield Park on March 5.
Charlie Johnston, assistant trainer to his Yorkshire-based father Mark, commented: “Mister Universe ran some very good races last year – he was only beaten just over three lengths in the Jersey Stakes.
“He was running against some top-quality opposition but probably didn’t get as many wins as his performances deserved. It’s nice to see him win two races in a week now.
“Although he had some good form over seven furlongs last year, it looked at Lingfield last time that a mile was his optimum trip. With this being a Fast-Track Qualifier for a £150,000 race, it was too good an opportunity to miss.
“All being well, Good Friday is where we will go now. We will have to look at the Lincoln, because he will be well in, but with the restricted field sizes on Good Friday, we will have to see how we are compared to our rivals there.
“They are two nice options and a good problem to have.”
Joe Fanning said: “Mister Universe battled well today. He won with a bit in hand last week and the drop back in trip was no problem because he has speed. A mile or seven furlongs is no problem.
“I thought Sovereign Debt was going to go away from me but fair play to my horse because he got his head down and stuck to his guns.”
There was also a thrilling climax to the 12-runner £50,000 Ladbrokes Lincoln Trial (2.15pm) as 4/1 favourite Keystroke (pictured below, farside)(Jeremy Noseda/Jim Crowley), having only his fourth start, edged out 5/1 shot Supersta (Michael Appleby/Andrew Mullen) by a nose in 1m 46.31s, a hundredth of a second outside the course record for a mile and 141 yards on Tapeta.
Winning jockey Jim Crowley commented: “Keystroke is a relatively inexperienced horse, who was coming up against horses who have been running on the All-Weather.
“He is still a little bit green – he was slowly away early on and that is not ideal around here. We got a nice run on the inside and he stuck on well. I would like to think that there would be more to come from him.
“I just needed a bit of luck up the inside and, when it opened up, he picked up nicely. I am pretty sure he will come on again for that run. He was up against fit horses and, considering the way the race was run, he did very well.”
Michael Appleby said: “Supersta was unlucky and, if he had got a clear run, he would have won. He was just a bit unlucky but has run a super race and we are all happy with him. He’s a nice horse with a lot of ability and there is still a bit more to come from him yet.
“He would have to run off his old mark with a penalty in the Lincoln and I don’t know whether he will get in the consolation race or not. We will not be too worried if he doesn’t go there – we will find something else for him.
“If he can be as good on turf as he is on the All-Weather, then we have something to look forward to. The lads are quite keen to go for the Victoria Cup with him.”