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Desert Hero warming up for Royal return with Newbury outing

Desert Hero warming up for Royal return with Newbury outing
Desert Hero warming up for Royal return with Newbury outing

Desert Hero takes another step on the road back to Royal Ascot in the Sky Sports Racing Aston Park Stakes at Newbury on Saturday.

The William Haggas-trained four-year-old lit up the showpiece meeting last summer when providing the newly-crowned King and Queen with their first victory at the Royal meeting in the King George V Stakes.

Desert Hero went on to establish himself as a genuine Classic contender by following up in the Gordon Stakes at Glorious Goodwood before rounding off his three-year-old campaign with an honourable third in the St Leger at Doncaster.

And having made an encouraging return when beaten a head into second place by Okeechobee in Sandown’s Gordon Richards Stakes over a mile and a quarter, the chestnut son of Sea The Stars is well fancied to go one better and book his return to Berkshire next month, with the Hardwicke Stakes his objective.

“He ran very well at Sandown and he should be just as good if not better at this trip (mile and a half), it should be right up his street,” said Haggas.

“I thought he stayed on very well at Sandown and was just a bit rusty, but I was very happy with him.

“Hopefully we will have him for his very best after this for the Hardwicke.”

Middle Earth after winning the Melrose Handicap
Middle Earth after winning the Melrose Handicap at York (Molly Hunter/PA)

Another runner with Ascot on the agenda is John and Thady Gosden’s Middle Earth, who won three of his five starts last season but disappointed in the Leger.

Now jointly owned by Qatar Racing and leading Australian trainer Ciaron Maher, the Roaring Lion colt will be heading across the globe later in the year, but not before showing up at the big Ascot meeting.

David Redvers, racing manager for Qatar Racing, said: “We’re very much looking forward to getting him back on track, he seems in rude health and the long-term target is the Melbourne Cup. Ciaron Maher has bought into him and going to Australia is very much the plan for later in the year.

“This race is a nice starting point and hopefully a stepping-stone to the Hardwicke at Royal Ascot.

“We think he’s done very well over the winter, physically he’s turned into a very nice horse having looked a bit of a baby last year, so we’re hoping he’ll improve.”

The Ralph Beckett-trained Salt Bay looked much improved for a gelding operation when a close third as a 33-1 shot for the John Porter over the course and distance last month and connections are hoping for another positive showing this weekend.

“His two best races have both come at Newbury so it is a place he likes and he seems to like a flat track,” said Alex Elliott, racing adviser to owners Valmont.

“His first run back this year was top drawer and we think he has come forward from it. He won’t mind conditions and we’re looking forward to running him.”

Other hopefuls include Charlie Appleby’s King Of Conquest, George Baker’s stable stalwart Cemhaan and the long-absent German recruit So Moonstruck, who is poised to make his debut for Owen Burrows following 685 days off the track.

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