Doc Sportello provided trainer Michael Herrington with the biggest victory of his career when pouncing late in the five-furlong £19,000 Betway Conditions Race on Tapeta at Newcastle this afternoon.
The five-year-old is now guaranteed a free start in the £150,000 Betway All-Weather Sprint over six furlongs on Polytrack at Lingfield Park on All-Weather Championships Finals Day, Good Friday, April 14.
Sent off an 8/1 chance, Doc Sportello was ridden patiently by Robert Winston off a strong prace set by Irish raider Chiclet (Tracey Collins/Gary Halpin, 22/1) and was still last with two furlongs to race. He made good progress to challenge between rivals over a furlong out and stayed on strongly despite drifting to just beat Justice Good (David Elsworth/Shane Kelly, 7/1) in a driving finish.
The winning margin was a short-head, with a length and a quarter back to Dougan (David Evans/Andrew Mullen, 10/1) in third. Hot favourite Gracious John (David Evans/John Egan, 5/4) was fourth.
Doc Sportello was claimed by Herrington for £10,000 after winning a six-furlong claimer for Epsom trainer Adam West at Newcastle on December 16, after which he was second on his debut for the stable in handicap over the same course and distance on January 3. West had bought the horse for 3,200 guineas.
Herrington, who is based near Thirsk in North Yorkshire, said: “I was down at the start because Doc Sportello has had a history of being a bit naughty in the stalls.
“When Eddie Lynam had him in Ireland he had a bit of trouble and Adam West has obviously done a great job with him because when he went to Chester in September he laid down under the stalls.
“Adam spent loads of time sorting him out and then got him to win a claimer here in December. Fortunately for me, he was a good claim for £10,000 then. It is unbelievable really.
“We thought he would run well holding him up off a strong pace because they do come from behind here. He has got an engine and is clearly a good horse. He has not had much racing – this was only his sixth start – and can only get better if we can keep him healthy.
“It means everything because I didn’t ride many winners as a jockey – I was only an average rider. I have worked for Kevin Ryan and Dandy Nicholls as a travelling lad and a head lad. I have only got a few horses and it is great to compete against the big boys.
“We are in the final now and I won’t over-race him. He has got to race a bit to give him some more experience so we will probably give him a run around Lingfield before the final – there are a couple of Listed races there before Good Friday.”
Winston said: “I purposely took Doc Sportello out of the race because he can get a bit racey with you. He switched off beautiful once I took him back a few lengths and probably landed in front a bit too soon.
“He was edging off to the left but once he saw the other horse he wanted to go other way so I let him join him and he produced the goods.
“He hit a real strong headwind the last day and it was just experience that beat him. I said then come back to five furlongs as you will see the best of him and he has proved it.
“I am just delighted for Michael, his wife and the connections because they deserve to have a runner on Good Friday.”
The stewards held an enquiry and found that Doc Sportello had interfered with Dougan inside the final furlong. They found Winston guilty of careless riding and cautioned him.
Doc Sportello formed the second leg of a 35/1 double for Winston after Flaming Spear (Kevin Ryan) produced a power-packed finish to win the £45,000 Sunbets.co.uk Handicap over seven furlongs.
The well-backed 3/1 favourite had a wall of horses in front of him over a furlong out, but quickened brilliantly towards the stands’ side to win by a cosy neck at the line. Fort Bastion (Brian Ellison/Tom Eaves, 20/1) was second, with a further neck back to Al Khan (Kevin Ryan/Kevin Stott, 33/1) in third.
Winston said: “It was very muddling early on but, in fairness, the horse absolutely loved it. He was carting me along in amongst them and just thought he was in control. He would have been one of the most unlucky losers had he not got up.
“I missed the start on purpose. The plan was to drop him in because needs to be taught to switch off and thankfully he got the gaps.
“He has been very highly thought of and once he learns to switch off he will be a very decent horse. All credit to Tony Bloom [owner] and Kevin Ryan because he has done a fantastic job with him. He is a horse they haven’t been able to keep 100 per cent sound but they are on top of that now.
“The mile race on Finals Day is a possibility but, to be honest, I don’t say where they go. I just ride them. I do know the Lincoln was mentioned after his last run, so who knows.”
The next Fast-Track Qualifier takes place at Wolverhampton Racecourse on Monday 16th January. Grandstand admission is free on the day of racing as well. http://www.wolverhampton-racecourse.co.uk/whats-on/fixture/16-january-2017/