DAVID Barron has always regarded Pearl Secret as a gem of a sprinter – and the Yorkshire horse lived up to his glittering reputation by landing a dramatic Betfred Temple Stakes at Haydock.
However, with this giant of a horse only excelling when the underfoot conditions are soft, Pearl Secret will only get the chance to sparkle at Royal Ascot next month if there is sufficient give in the ground.
The Thirsk trainer was speaking after this five-furlong sprint in which six-foot George Baker, the tallest jockey on the Flat, won the shortest race in the programme book thanks to the horse managing to avoid trouble in the dash to the line.
It saw Pearl Secret, now six and winning for the seventh time in 15 starts, enjoy the run of the race as the fast finishing runner-up Jack Dexter was among those to be hampered by Kevin Ryan’s disappointing favourite Hot Streak whose jockey Oisin Murphy was given a three-day ban for careless riding. The domino effect so nearly saw Daniel Tudhope come to grief from David O’Meara’s G Force.
Bookmakers responded by cutting the winner’s odds from 16-1 to 12-1 for the King’s Stand Stakes on day one of Royal Ascot. Jon Ivan-Duke, spokesman for Leeds-based William Hill, said: “Pearl Secret is stirring the waters in the Royal Ascot sprint markets after a career best effort.”
Tenth in the King’s Stand last year, Barron – and owners Qatar Racing – will draw some encouragement from the fact that last year’s winner Sole Power was only sixth at the Curragh on Saturday.
But he accepts that his charge is at the mercy of the weather gods. “We’ve been waiting for that to happen for a while. It’s always a bit difficult with him, though, as he needs some give in the ground,” said Barron.
“We trained him all winter and never missed a day, and then when he ran in France two weeks ago he ran so badly we wondered why we’d bothered. I gave him a piece of work on Monday which was very good and that’s all I’ve done with him.
“He wouldn’t go to Ascot if it was firm, as he wants the ground no quicker than today. He’s always been very quick, and has taken our eye from day one.”
David O’Meara was just glad G Force, his Grade One winner from last season, lives to fight another day after a rough passage.
“He was lucky not to get brought down, as he clipped heels. It’s a shame as he was in the process of running a nice race,” said the Nawton handler. “As a hold-up horse, though, it won’t be the last time that will happen.”
It’s possible that the six-furlong Diamond Jubilee Stakes will be G Force’s Royal Ascot assignment. O’Meara had better luck with Eccleston in the sprint handicap. He said: “I didn’t put him in the Wokingham, would you believe, the Great St Wilfrid and then Ayr might come into it.”
Meanwhile, Brian Ellison is preparing a big assault on the Northumberland Plate after saddling Seamour and Totalize to finish first and second in the Betfred Membership “Play Your Way” Handicap.
The Malton trainer was born in Newcastle on the day of the Pitmen’s Derby and his No 1 dream is to win his hometown race.
Jockey Ben Curtis always had Seamour handy and used the rail to good effect to hold off his stablemate by a length-and-a-quarter.
“Both of those two will go for the Plate, as will Montefeltro who was ninth and one or two others,” said north-east native Ellison. “He’s a good horse, this – Ben said he got there miles too soon, but he had no choice really.
“He won that off 85 so I hope he goes up enough to get in.”
Meanwhile, there were big race clues at Beverley when Easton Angel produced a swift shift of gear to take the Hilary Needler Trophy.
Michael Dods’s unbeaten filly toyed with her nine rivals under Paul Mulrennan to land the five-furlong conditions event by a length.
Next on her programme could be the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot. “She’s a good filly, very quick. Paul half-fell out the stalls but he rode her with confidence because he knew how good she is,” said Dods.
“I wouldn’t be frightened to take her to Ascot as she’s got a good temperament and doesn’t get too buzzed up. I’ve not seen a better filly in the North.”
On his first visit to Beverley in 30 years, Simon Crisford – former racing manager to Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation and now a trainer – could not have been happier after First Selection manfully rose to the challenge in a hot-looking renewal of the Brian Yeardley Continental Two-Year-Old Trophy and booked a place at Royal Ascot.
“I’ve not been to Beverley for 30 years and I’ll definitely be returning,” said Crisford.