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Top Rank bidding for top ranking as 23 horses remain on course for Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury

James Tate will have his first runner in the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes as he prepares the emerging Top Rank to take on hot favourite Palace Pier and Aidan O’Brien’s top milers in the Group 1 at Newbury on Saturday, May 15.

The Saeed Manana-owned five-year-old will step up to Group 1 company for the first time for the £350,000 prize, the first top level older horse contest of the 2021 Flat season in Britain.

Belardo winning the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury in 2016
Belardo winning the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury in 2016

He is one of 23 horses that remain on course for the 1m race after the first scratching stage, which are headed by Palace Pier, who returned to action with a smooth success in the Sandown Mile last week.

Top Rank has won six of his eight starts and staked his case for an immediate step up in class by winning the Listed Doncaster Mile, in which he was conceding 5lb to the whole field.

“We plan to go to the Lockinge,” said Newmarket trainer Tate. “Obviously it’s a big step up in class. He’s a Listed winner and a Group 3 winner so the obvious step would be Group 2 but with the lack of a suitable opportunity we are going to have a go at Newbury.

“We did have a feeling that he might be bigger and better this year, so we were very pleased he could win at Doncaster giving 5lb to the rest of the field.

“He’ll have to leave that form behind again if he is to win the Lockinge but we think the flat course at Newbury will suit him and, if it turned up something easier than good to firm, we would be hopeful of a good show.”

The John & Thady Gosden-trained Palace Pier has become the odds-on favourite for the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes since recording an eight length win in a four-runner Group 2 at Sandown.

The four-year-old colt plus an Aidan O’Brien team, that includes Order Of Australia and Lope Y Fernandez, first and third in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, are among Top Rank’s chief opponents.

“I did watch Palace Pier on Friday and he looked very good,” Tate said. “That didn’t bother me too much. If you’d told me now that we were going to be second to Palace Pier, I’d take that. I’m a big believer in not fearing one horse. If I can get a career best out of my horse I will be happy.”

He added: “We have had a few Group 1 runners and the closest we’ve been was a neck second in the French Guineas but I’ve never had a runner in the Lockinge.”

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