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Passenger embarks on ‘exciting year’ at Chester

Passenger embarks on ‘exciting year’ at Chester
Passenger embarks on ‘exciting year’ at Chester

One-time Classic contender Passenger will take flight on his four-year-old campaign in the Ire-Incentive, It Pays To Buy Irish Huxley Stakes at Chester on Friday.

The Sir Michael Stoute-trained colt burst onto the scene in the Wood Ditton last spring and earned a shot at the Derby when deemed an unlucky third in the Dante at York.

He ultimately disappointed in the Epsom Classic, but after a break finished his three-year-old season with a first Group-level success at Windsor to give connections hope he could follow in the footsteps of his sire Ulysses and thrive for Stoute at four.

“It will hopefully be a good start to an exciting year,” said Alan Cooper, racing manager for owners the Niarchos family.

“He’s got some very nice entries and has wintered well and, as always, we’ll take it step by step and see how Friday goes and take things from there.

“Sir Michael takes his horses along gently and has given Passenger plenty of time to mature and Friday is hopefully the first step on a good four-year-old season.”

Stoute has won the race twice in the last 10 years with Cannock Chase (2016) and Solid Stone (2021) and also saddles Regal Reality, who is the mount of Saffie Osborne and gave a fair account on his return in the Earl of Sexton Stakes.

A man with an even better recent record is Aidan O’Brien, with the Ballydoyle handler attempting to follow up Point Lonsdale’s success 12 months ago with Hans Andersen, who is fresh from victory at Dundalk and partnered by William Buick.

Meanwhile, John and Thady Gosden’s Israr has been a consistent performer for connections and is tried in blinkers once again having sported the headgear when pipped late on in Sandown’s Gordon Richards Stakes recently.

Jockey Jim Crowley had made a bold bid for home on that occasion before being headed by Okeechobee and the King and Queen’s Desert Hero in the dying strides. Angus Gold, racing manager for the Shadwell operation, said: “He’s a funny horse who doesn’t do a lot when he hits the front and he was sort of left in front a long way out.

Israr has been a consistent performer for Shadwell
Israr has been a consistent performer for Shadwell (Tim Goode/PA)

“Obviously the other two just quickened past him up the hill but he ran well in the headgear and we’ve kept that on him.

“It’s anybody’s guess how a horse will get on at Chester, but hopefully it is a track that might suit him and it will be lovely ground I’m sure. Hopefully he will run. He’s a lovely horse to have.”

Royal Rhyme progressed out of handicap company to finish fifth in the Champion Stakes at the end of 2023 and bids to continue the useful form of the Karl Burke stable as he plies his trade at Pattern level once again.

The Spigot Lodge handler feels the son of Lope De Vega is ready to run and is keen to get his new season up and running despite some slight anxiety about conditions.

Royal Rhyme rose through the ranks last year
Royal Rhyme rose through the ranks last year (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Burke said: “I don’t want the ground to dry out too much, but he’s ready to run and as long as the ground is safe, I’d be keen to let him take his chance I think.

“I’m keen to get a run into him and there isn’t many runners, so hopefully it stays safe, decent ground.”

Johnny Murtagh’s Mashhoor and Andrew Slattery’s Devoy Stakes winner Sunchart are both further Irish raiders in the mix, while Ed Bethell’s Oviedo and Jack Channon’s Certain Lad complete the field of nine.

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