Two-time champion jockey Paul Hanagan is pinning his hopes on a Royal Ascot winner when Sands Of Mali runs in the Commonwealth Cup on Friday.
A slightly surprising winner of the Gimcrack as a two-year-old, he was then last in the Middle Park and failed to see out a mile at the Breeders’ Cup, which meant he went into the winter with something to prove.
Trainer Richard Fahey sent him to France early in the season, where he defied a penalty in a Group Three, and then he just held off the consistent Invincible Army in the Sandy Lane Stakes at Haydock.
Hanagan said: “I don’t think the distance (a nose) he won last time told the whole result, really. He got a bit lonely in front, but he was always holding on. He showed a good attitude and determination to stick his head out again.
“We are kind of hoping they are going to go quick. He is not the type of horse you can mess about with as he jumps so quick and gets into that big, long stride.
“It was a good Sandy Lane and we’ve always thought a lot of this horse, so we are pretty confident. He is the one I’ve been looking forward to all meeting.”
James Tate’s Invincible Army has form that ties in with most of these.
“We’re looking forward to the rematch. He should keep improving with every race,” said Tate.
Already a Royal Ascot victor courtesy of his win in the Norfolk Stakes, Aidan O’Brien’s Sioux Nation arrives on the back of a comfortable victory in a Group Three.
“He won over five (furlongs) here last year and he is a fast horse. He seems in good form and he has been progressing with his runs,” said O’Brien, who also saddles Fleet Review and Actress.
“We think he is ready for this but it will be his first time over six furlongs on a real stiff track.
“It was six the last day but it will be more competitive this time. Fleet Review is solid and he gets the six furlongs well.”
The unexposed runner in the race is Charlie Hills’ Equilateral.
A debut winner last year, he then bombed out at York before returning this season with an eight-length victory.
“I think he’s a very talented horse with a great attitude. He’s lightly raced and obviously it is a big step up in class but, for me, he’s got the right mindset to overcome the step up in class,” said Hills.
Heartache was another to win at the meeting 12 months ago, in the Queen Mary, but she was only sixth behind Sands Of Mali at Haydock.
Trainer Clive Cox said: “She did disappoint a little bit on her comeback run, but she’s come out of the race well and she’s now got to step up and prove it over six (furlongs).”
Enjazaat shaped well for Owen Burrows when third on his return at Ascot behind Invincible Army.
“He was three lengths behind Invincible Army on rain-softened ground in the Pavilion Stakes,” said Burrows.
“I am not saying he will win but I think if he gets a bit of luck he could nick a place as a strong-run six (furlongs) will suit.”
John Gosden’s Emblazoned was third to Sands Of Mali at Haydock on what was just his fourth run.
Gosden said: “He is improving and he proved he belonged in that company at Haydock. I think it is a good Commonwealth Cup. Some really fantastic horses have won it and it looks a good race again this year.
“He ran a big race at Haydock but he is improving all the time and he will need to again. It is great to have horse to run in a race like this but we are aware what price we are in the market.”