Poet’s Word appears to have an outstanding chance of returning to winning ways in Thursday evening’s Matchbook Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown.
The Sir Michael Stoute-trained five-year-old was last seen finishing second to Hawkbill in the Sheema Classic in Dubai, having previously filled the same position behind Cracksman in the Champion Stakes last October.
Sandwiched in between those two top-class efforts was a decent run in the Hong Kong Cup and this represents a big drop in class.
The Coronation Cup at Epsom was being considered as a possible target, but the prospect of facing Cracksman once more did not appeal.
“It looks a good race for him without a penalty,” said Bruce Raymond, racing manager to owner Saeed Suhail. “He’s effective at a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half, and Sir Michael has decided to go for this as an easier option before he goes to Ascot.
“We did toy with the Coronation Cup but didn’t really see the point in taking on Cracksman again, so we’re hoping he can win this.
“It will either be the Prince of Wales’s Stakes or the Hardwicke next, this might help us decide.”
Michael Bell’s Fabricate is second favourite having just been touched off by Stoute’s Crystal Ocean in the Gordon Richards Stakes last time.
Crystal Ocean franked that form at Newbury on Saturday, but Bell fears he may come off second best to another Stoute runner with the Queen’s horse.
“He should be bang there again, but unfortunately for us it looks like Sir Michael will be a party pooper once more,” said Bell. "We’ll do our best and he’s in very good form.”
David Simcock’s Desert Encounter ran the race of his life to be third over this course and distance in the Eclipse last summer and later added a Group Three at Newbury.
Raymond is also manager for his owner, Abdulla Al Mansoori, and said: “Desert Encounter has become a very useful performer. While he faces a tough task against Poet’s Word giving him weight (3lb), David is very happy with him at home.
“The fact he’s returning to Sandown, and arguably his best race was in the Eclipse, is another plus.”
Weekender aims to confirm the promise of his win last time out when he steps up in class for the Matchbook VIP Henry II Stakes at Sandown on Thursday evening.
Trained by John Gosden, the Frankel four-year-old has always had a tall reputation but looked in danger of failing to live up to the hype on occasions last season.
However, with another winter on his back he was much too good for Northumberland Plate winner Higher Power at Chelmsford, a performance which the handicapper raised him 10lb for.
Gosden said: “I think the Gold Cup (at Ascot) might be beyond him, distance-wise, I was thinking of bringing him back to a mile and a half.
“He just won so nicely over a mile-six we were keen to try him over two miles, as that would open up a lot more options.”
Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to owner Khalid Abdullah, said: “He won really nicely at Chelmsford. It was slightly hard to know the value of the race, but he could do no more than he did.
“He’s been a big, scopey horse and has strengthened up over the winter, so he’s been a work in progress.”
Sheikhzayedroad may be a nine-year-old but was only beaten a length by the top-class Vazirabad in the Dubai Gold Cup last time out.
His form does tend to be better in Dubai, but connections are eyeing up Royal Ascot.
“As he’s getting older David is trying to spread his races out a bit more,” said Raymond. “This is the obvious next step for him before the Gold Cup at Ascot, as it gives him enough time.
“He ran a tremendous race in Dubai, once again, he absolutely thrives out there – David takes him there at the right time and it does him the world of good so we’re hopeful.”
Raymond also looks after the interests of Abdulla Al Mansoori, who runs Time To Study.
Trained by Mark Johnston the four-year-old went close in the Chester Cup last time out with nearly top weight.
“Time To Study is very consistent and should have a good chance, too,” said Raymond.
“He’s the progressive horse in the race and ran really well in the Chester Cup under a huge weight. Obviously this is another step up the ladder.”
Chester Cup winner Magic Circle is another to line up, as is Montaly, last year’s Chester Cup hero who went on to win the Lonsdale Cup.
Mount Moriah, Red Verdon and Glencadam Glory are the other runners.