Magical Maarek strikes York gold
Maarek gave weight and a beating to some talented sprinters as he got off the mark for the year in the Duke of York Clipper Logistic Stakes.
The seven-year-old was carrying a 5lb Group One penalty for winning last year's Prix de l'Abbaye at Longchamp when trained by Barry Lalor, whose former assistant Evanna McCutcheon now trains the gelding in her own right.
Sent off at 12-1 having built on a slightly disappointing comeback run at Cork when runner-up at Naas a fortnight ago, Maarek travelled powerfully on the far side of the track and moved towards the front end two furlongs down. Kevin Ryan's Middle Park winner Astaire - the only three-year-old in the field - proved the main threat to the Irish raider in the closing stages, but Maarek won the battle by half a length.
Es Que Love ran with plenty of credit in third after a gap failed to materialise at a crucial stage, with Mass Rally right on his heels in fourth.
Winning jockey Declan McDonogh said: "He travelled so well. Last year he didn't travel at all in his races, but he seems a lot sweeter this year. He's hitting the gates better and travelling with me. He's in a good place at the moment.
"We're nearly getting to the front too early and he does nothing when he gets there, but he's a class horse. He's getting a bit of age on him now and we're striking up a good partnership.
"He's a Group One winner and he's been very good to me. I didn't think it was in any doubt today. Five or six furlongs doesn't matter, as long as he gets a lead."
McCutcheon said: "I'm a very lucky person to have a horse like him. To be in this position is unreal. He got a fraction stronger over the winter and because he's a year older, it just took that bit longer to get him fit. He's always been an idle horse.
"He's now back in the swing of things finally. The first day the ground was very testing and he wasn't fit enough. He then ran a cracker at Naas when he gave 14lb to a very good horse, but he still gave a heave.
"He has a habit of being very slowly away. So we asked to go into the stalls late today and he still had a little dance, but not too bad.
"He'll go to Royal Ascot if there's an ease in the ground. He's in both races (King's Stand and Diamond Jubilee) and he's very effective over both distances. There would be a possibility of running in both, but it would be very ground dependent."
Ryan was understandably proud of the runner-up and he too is bound for the Royal meeting in Berkshire next month.
"That was a fantastic run. It was lovely to see him take a lead and he came there very easily. It was the first time Richard (Hughes) has sat on him and he said he's quick enough for five furlongs. I just think on better ground today he would probably have won," said the trainer.
"He's an unbelievable horse and he carried a Group One penalty there. I hope I have one next year that will be carrying a Group One penalty! As we've got Hot Streak for the five-furlong race (King's Stand) at Ascot, he'll probably run in the six-furlong race (Diamond Jubilee)."