Johnston hopefuls sent off to Haydock

Lumiere, seen here ridden by William Buick winning at Newmarket last year, will head to Haydock today (Picture: PA).Lumiere, seen here ridden by William Buick winning at Newmarket last year, will head to Haydock today (Picture: PA).
Lumiere, seen here ridden by William Buick winning at Newmarket last year, will head to Haydock today (Picture: PA).
MARK Johnston's Guineas contenders Lumiere and '¨Buratino will head to Haydock today for a racecourse gallop.

Both horses represent the Middleham trainer’s best prospects of winning a British Classic since the fabulous filly Attraction landed the 1000 Guineas 12 years ago.

Second in the Lowther Stakes at York, Lumiere rounded off the 2015 season by winning the Group One Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket, which hosts the 1000 Guineas on May 1.

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As for Buratino, he heads for the 2000 Guineas for colts on the preceding day following an impressive win in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot over Ballydoyle’s highly-touted Air Force Blue.

He rounded off the season with a second-place finish in the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket, though Buratino does need quick ground to be seen at his very best.

“All is well with both of them at this stage, touch wood, and they are both on target for their Guineas – it’s near-certain they’ll both go straight there,” said Johnston.

“Lumiere is quite a big filly and has done well over the winter, but it’s hard to say quite how well she’s going.

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“William Buick and James Doyle are coming to ride them. I’m very happy with the two of them, they are working extremely well but they’ve only done two serious gallops apiece and both with the same horses.

“Buratino ran very early last season and continued performing to a high level right the way through, that shows how tough he is.”

Johnston’s horses have, once again, hit the ground running, as evidenced by The Last Lion’s impressive win in the Brocklesby Stakes at Doncaster’s season-opening meeting on Saturday.

The first significant race of 2016 for two-year-olds, the race was effectively over with two furlongs to go after Franny Norton’s mount pulled clear. “We thought he was nice but you can never be sure,” said the trainer.

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As for the Betway Lincoln, the prestigious one-mile handicap went to Secret Brief who only hit the front on the line under a well-judged William Buick ride.

Wearing Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin colours, the four-year-old – trained by Charlie Appleby – got the better of a terrific duel with Ryan Moore on Bravo Zolo to prevail by a neck, with David O’Meara’s Birdman staying on strongly for fourth.

Buick, who rode both Buratino and Lumiere last season, acknowledged the attritional conditions on a rain-softened Town Moor.

He said of the winner: “I think he’ll improve for a better surface.”

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Godolphin racing manager John Ferguson hopes Secret Brief’s win could be the catalyst for the ‘boys in blue’ as Sheikh Mohammed’s empire looks to regain top spot in British racing.

He said: “It’s a lovely start for everybody in the team.

“What we want is our horses to reach their potential, which they haven’t been doing, and this is a great start.

“We’ll have to see what the handicapper does on Tuesday before we make a plan.”

The day got even better for Godolphin as the royal blue silks were carried to an easy victory in the Betway Doncaster Mile by Roger Varian’s Belardo under James Doyle.

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Victorious in the Dewhurst as a juvenile, he went winless last season, but looks like he could have a profitable campaign this year.

Varian said: “It looked straightforward, but I was a little worried James could get boxed in if it turned into a sprint.

“I didn’t really let him down over the winter given how well he ran in the QEII (runner-up to Solow) and we’ve aimed at this for a long time. He’ll go for the Sandown Mile next and he’s in the Lockinge (Newbury).”