Skardu set for Newmarket return

Skardu (right) is set to line up in the 2000 Guineas after landing Newmarket's Craven Stakes under James Doyle.
Skardu (right) is set to line up in the 2000 Guineas after landing Newmarket's Craven Stakes under James Doyle.
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WILLIAM HAGGAS has set his sights on a long-overdue 2000 Guineas victory after the highly-promising Skardu won the Craven Stakes at Newmarket.

The Yorkshire-born trainer confirmed the colt – who made a winning debut last year and is still unbeaten – will return to Newmarket on May 4 for the opening Classic of the 2019 season.

Mister Whitaker is pictured winning Cheltenham's Silver Trophy under Jonathan Burke.

Mister Whitaker is pictured winning Cheltenham's Silver Trophy under Jonathan Burke.

Skardu, a son of Shamardal, was ridden with restraint by in-form jockey James Doyle as Roger Charlton’s Momkin then burst through near the rails to momentarily hit the front.

However Skardu just gained the upper hand to win by a neck, with Set Piece a length and three-quarters away in third.

Saeed bin Suroor’s Royal Marine, a Group One winner last year, was not in the best position before staying on for fourth, while Charlie Appleby’s highly-touted Zakouski was very disappointing.

The corresponding race last year was won by Masar who went on to win the Epsom Derby.

Yet, while Haggas has a Derby win to his name thanks to 1996 hero Shaamit, the 2000 Guineas for three-year-old colts has eluded him.

On Skardu, Haggas said: “I was quite pleased with him, but I don’t know what the form is like. He had a nice race and relaxed well. He showed a nice turn of foot and won.

“He surprised me when he won first time out, but he performed well. I thought he looked good beforehand today. He was very calm and performed well in the race.

“He has gone from a maiden to a Group Three, so hopefully there is a bit more in him. He doesn’t do a lot at home. I think we can get a bit excited.

“James knows Charlie’s (Appleby, Zakouski) horse very well and he said he is a pretty smart horse and he didn’t run his race today. I’m highly delighted.

“James said he had to take a pull three out, but we are trying to educate a horse that is trying to go into the fast lane, as he has got a lot to learn.

“I can’t fault him at the moment.”

He added: “If all things are equal he will be running in the Guineas.”

Meanwhile, Elarqam will bid to get his career back on track in today’s Earl of Sefton Stakes – the Craven meeting’s final day highlight.

A son of Frankel out of the brilliant racemare Attraction, Middleham trainer Mark Johnston’s charge looked like living up to his regal breeding after ending his juvenile campaign with two impressive wins from as many starts.

He was far from disgraced in finishing fourth in last year’s 2000 Guineas, but disappointed when favourite for the Irish equivalent and was subsequently beaten at Group Two and Group Three level, at York and Salisbury respectively.

Having had wind surgery during the off-season, Elarqam makes his first competitive in over eight months in the nine-furlong Group Three contest and connections are hopeful of a positive start to the season.

Angus Gold, racing manager to owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, said: “I spoke to Mark Johnston on Monday and he is pleased with Elarqam’s condition and is very happy with his work.

“Everything went wrong for him last year from the Irish Guineas onwards, so we pulled up stumps, touched up his wind and gave him a long break and now we are happy with him.

“He had a hairline fracture of his pelvis and you can never be sure how these things have healed, but his last pelvic scan, in December, was very good.

“Everything is a question mark for him. We just need to see him back as last year went downhill and we know he is better than that.”

Jump jockey Jonathan Burke’s resurgence continued when Mister Whitaker won the feature Silver Trophy at Cheltenham.

The horse, who was victorious at the 2018 National Hunt Festival at the same track, beat Got Away by a neck in a hard-fought finish.

The chaser, owned by Tim Radford, is trained by former England footballer Mick Channon.

The win provided connections with some consolation after top novice Glen Forsa disappointed at this year’s Cheltenham and Aintree festivals.

Burke, 23, is now on the 42-winner mark for the current campaign.

He recorded just 15 successes last season after relocating from Ireland to seek further opportunities.