Casamento to challenge Frankel for Guineas
Former Michael Halford star juvenile Casamento was last night confirmed as a definite challenger to hot favourite Frankel in the English 2,000 Guineas on Saturday.
Since winning the Racing Post Trophy for Halford at Doncaster last October, Casamento has joined Newmarket trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni and had originally been mooted as a likely candidate for the Epsom Derby.
However, the son of Shamardal became a serious candidate for the first Classic of the season after Godolphin's leading Guineas fancy Dubai Prince, formerly trained by Dermot Weld, was ruled out last week.
Confirming the decision, Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford stated: "We're very pleased with him and that's why he's going to run in the Guineas.
"We always thought a longer distance would suit him as the season goes on, but the form of the Racing Post has worked out very well and we're looking forward to seeing him in Saturday's race."
As expected, Frankie Dettori will renew his partnership with Casamento, rated at 16/1, while Mickael Barzalona takes the ride on Godolphin's other representative Saamidd.
On the track yesterday, Askar Tau delivered a welcome reminder of his staying power in the Sagaro Stakes as he set himself up for a first shot at the Ascot Gold Cup.
The Group Three two-miler has sometimes been used as a trial for the Royal meeting, over another four furlongs of the same course, although the obvious major players stayed away on this occasion.
Askar Tau himself looked on the cusp of big things in the summer of 2009, winning the Lonsdale and Doncaster Cups and running well in France, but became a source of frustration for trainer Marcus Tregoning last year.
Akmal dictated a stop-start pace of what was effectively a rematch of a race at Nottingham three weeks earlier, but a patient George Baker found Askar Tau (4/1) had a surprising turn of foot in the closing stages as he came two and a half lengths clear.
"He just needs top of the ground," said Tregoning, who had the six-year-old's owner, the Kazakhstani businessman Nurlan Bizakov, in attendance. "For some reason he just wasn't moving as well last season, but we got him started early and he was very good today. He'll go for the Gold Cup and I'm not ruling another run in or out, it depends if the fast ground goes."
Bookies rate him a 16/1 shot at this stage, with Dermot Weld's Rite Of Passage and Fame And Glory from the Aidan O'Brien yard sharing favouritism.
As a son of Montjeu, Askar Tau was making a timely tribute to his grandsire, Sadler's Wells, which had died the previous evening at the age of 30.
Pensioned from stallion duties three years ago, Sadler's Wells had become an authentic colossus of the breed, winning 14 sires' championships in Britain and Ireland and becoming the bedrock of Coolmore's bloodstock empire.
As the greatest European conduit of the Northern Dancer bloodlines, he produced champions as varied as Salsabil, High Chaparral, Yeats and Istabraq. His legacy is already guaranteed by sons such as Montjeu and Galileo.
Up in Perth, Gordon Elliott re-affirmed his liking for the Scottish track by landing a double. Plan A, fourth when sent off favourite for the Fred Winter at the Cheltenham Festival, provided the Co Meath trainer with his customary visit to the course's winner's enclosure in the two-mile handicap hurdle.
Elliott had been frustrated with his earlier runners on the card but Tony McCoy guided the 5/6 favourite to a three-quarter-length victory over Exotic Man, although truth be told there did not appear to be much left.
Owner Liam Mulryan's silks had been carried to victory 24 hours earlier by Idarah in the Dan Moore Memorial Handicap at Fairyhouse.
Elliott then doubled up in the finale, the amateur riders' handicap hurdle, when Oscar's Ballad -- well-backed into 7/4 favourite -- was guided to victory by the cool Jamie Codd in the colours made famous by Imperial Commander.
"It was good to see Plan A get his head in front but he was entitled to win really," said Elliott. "He's had a long old season so he'll have a break now."
Howard Johnson's Nine Stories (5/4 favourite) rallied late to beat Elliott's Wikaala in the intermediate chase.
McCoy appeared to have the race in safe-keeping but his mount was running on empty after the last and Wilson Renwick galvanised Nine Stories to win by three and a half lengths.