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Astro King bidding to reign supreme in Earl Of Sefton

Astro King bidding to reign supreme in Earl Of Sefton
Astro King bidding to reign supreme in Earl Of Sefton

Last season’s Cambridgeshire hero Astro King returns to headquarters to contest the bet365 Earl Of Sefton Stakes at Newmarket on Wednesday.

The seven-year-old enjoyed a hugely productive 2023 campaign for Daniel and Claire Kubler, with a nose defeat in the John Smith’s Cup followed by lucrative wins back at York and on the Rowley Mile.

Astro King has since enjoyed winter trips to the Middle East, running with credit in both the Bahrain International Trophy and the Neom Turf Cup in Saudi Arabia, and connections are looking forward to seeing him return to competitive action on home soil.

Claire Kubler said: “It’s obviously the same course and distance as the Cambridgeshire and it will be nice to get him back there, he’s in good form.

“It was a big ask to travel abroad, but he ran a great race in Bahrain, he was just a bit unlucky with the draw and got stuck against the rail. There was lots of promise there and we’re looking forward to another good campaign with him this year.

“It will be interesting to see how he runs, I just wonder what the ground will be like. The way it’s drying out, it might just be a bit holding, which is not ideal, but we’ll see how it goes.”

Clifford Lee poses with Royal Rhyme after winning the Doonside Cup at Ayr
Clifford Lee poses with Royal Rhyme after winning the Doonside Cup at Ayr (Steve Welsh/PA)

Karl Burke has declared Royal Rhyme to make his first appearance since finishing fifth in last season’s Qipco Champion Stakes, but his participation is far from certain due to the drying ground.

“He’s in good shape, but I’d be a bit worried about the ground and if we’re not happy with it, he’s a possible non-runner,” said the Spigot Lodge handler.

“If it goes on the firm side, he definitely wouldn’t run and really, to be at his best, he wants a bit of soft ground.”

Ottoman Fleet and William Buick winning last year's Earl of Sefton Stakes
Ottoman Fleet and William Buick winning last year’s Earl of Sefton Stakes (Tim Goode/PA)

Charlie Appleby and William Buick have teamed up to win the last two renewals of the Earl Of Sefton, with Master Of The Seas and Ottoman Fleet, and the latter returns to headquarters to defend his crown.

The five-year-old has enjoyed a productive winter campaign in Dubai, placing at Group Two and Group One level before failing to fire in the Group Two Singspiel Stakes on his most recent start in February.

“Ottoman Fleet put up a couple of decent runs in Dubai and we gave him a nice break since he disappointed slightly in the Singspiel Stakes,” Appleby said on the Godolphin website.

“He has freshened up again and we know that he runs well at the track. Some ease in the ground won’t do him any harm.”

Regal Reality has been a fine servant to his connections
Regal Reality has been a fine servant to his connections (Mike Egerton/PA)

Other contenders include Roger Varian’s Embesto, who dead-heated for victory in the Group Three Sovereign Stakes at Salisbury last summer, and Sir Michael Stoute’s admirable veteran Regal Reality.

Ryan Moore, who rides Regal Reality, told Betfair: “He has run some good races when fresh in the past and hopefully the ground remains decent for him, though he has winning form with a bit of dig, too.

“As a nine-year-old, he has to give a few years to all of his rivals and he would be vulnerable to an improver like Royal Rhyme, but he has run some very good races on this track, including when a narrow second in the Joel Stakes here in September. He is among the form horses here on that run.”

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