Rhododendron is one of 16 declared runners for this year’s tremendous £350,000 G1 Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes (3.40pm), the centrepiece of an excellent seven-race card at Newbury on Al Shaqab Lockinge Day, Saturday, May 19.
The 2018 renewal of the Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes is set to have a joint-record number of runners for the 60th running. There were 16 runners in 2015, when Al Shaqab sponsored for the first time.
Rhododendron, one of four runners for Ireland’s champion Flat trainer Aidan O’Brien and the mount of Ryan Moore, is dropping back to a mile after finishing fourth to Cracksman in the 10-furlong Prix Ganay on April 29th.
She captured the Fillies’ Mile impressively at Newmarket in September, 2016, and came second to stable companion Winter, also over a straight mile, in last season’s QIPCO 1,000 Guineas. Rhododendron is drawn in stall two.
O’Brien’s quartet is completed by Breeders’ Cup Mile runner-up Lancaster Bomber (Seamie Heffernan, drawn 5), plus fellow globetrotters Deauville (Wayne Lordan, 3) and War Decree (Padraig Beggy, 13), as the trainer chases his second success in the race following the runaway victory of Hawk Wing (2003), who triumphed by a race-record distance of 11 lengths.
Crack sprinter Limato (Henry Candy/Harry Bentley, 11) looks to have ground conditions in his favour as he bids to prove his stamina over a mile. In his two previous attempts at the distance, the six-year-old finished fourth in the 2016 Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes and sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile later the same year.
Improving four-year-old Addeybb (William Haggas/James Doyle, 16) faces his stiffest test to date. He bolted up in the valuable Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster on March 24th, defeating Lord Glitters by two and three quarter lengths, and took another step forward when scoring impressively by the same margin in the Sandown Mile on April 27th.
Zabeel Prince (Roger Varian/Andrea Atzeni, 6) a lightly-raced five-year-old has won four of his last five starts and captured the Listed Doncaster Mile in good style on his reappearance in March.
Beat The Bank (Jim Crowley, 9), representing local handler Andrew Balding, won three Pattern races on the bounce last season, culminating with a five-length success in the mile Joel Stakes at Newmarket.
Librisa Breeze (Dean Ivory/Robert Winston, 4) and Suedois (David O’Meara/Daniel Tudhope, 1) are also in the line-up.
Last year’s runner-up Lightning Spear (David Simcock/Oisin Murphy, 7) renews rivalry with Zonderland (Clive Cox/Adam Kirby, 8). They have finished first and second in the last two editions of the Celebration Mile at Goodwood.
Accidental Agent (Eve Johnson-Houghton/Charles Bishop, 12) captured a valuable seven-furlong heritage handicap at Ascot in October and finished third in the Listed Paradise Stakes over a mile at the same course on May 2nd, his seasonal reappearance.
The four-year-old was beaten a neck on his only previous appearance at Newbury in the Listed Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships Cup Stakes at seven furlongs in September.
Trainer Eve Johnson-Houghton revealed today: “Accidental Agent is in great form at home and we are delighted with how he has been since Ascot.
“He has come on a ton for the run at Ascot. He ran well to finish third as he never seems to run that well first time out and always improves for his first start of the year.
“The ground was soft at Ascot and first time out that might have also caught him out. He has won on good to firm ground and run well at Newbury before so hopefully he will put in a good performance.
“We are under no illusions that it is a big step-up entering Group company for the first time, but running in the Lockinge will give us a clearer picture for the rest of the season as to where we can campaign him.
“He needs to step up on his previous form, but he’s very well at home. My father won the race (Habitat, 1969) and stranger things have happened in these big races.”
Godolphin, with eight winners, is the most successful owner in Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes history and is represented by multiple Group race victor Dutch Connection (Charlie Hills/Jamie Spencer, 10).
Irish challenger Alexios Komnenos (Fozzy Stack IRE/Chris Hayes, 15) and Lahore (Clive Cox/Silvestre de Sousa, 14) complete the 16-strong field.
Elsewhere on the Newbury’s Saturday card, St Leger runner-up Crystal Ocean (Sir Michael Stoute/Ryan Moore) faces four rivals in the £100,000 Al Rayyan Stakes (2.25pm) over 12 furlongs. The four-year-old moves up two furlongs in distance following a battling success in the 10-furlong Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown Park on April 27th.
Pavilion Stakes runner-up Eqtidaar (Sir Michael Stoute/Jim Crowley) and Coventry Stakes third Murillo (Aidan O’Brien IRE/Ryan Moore) are among nine three-year-olds in the opening £70,000 Shalaa Carnarvon Stakes (1.50pm) over six furlongs, the first of two Listed contests on the card.
Classic contenders could emerge from the £70,000 Listed Haras De Bouquetot Fillies’ Trial Stakes (4.50pm, seven runners) over 10 furlongs. Likely favourite Crystal Hope (Sir Michael Stoute/Andrea Atzeni) looked a top-class filly in the making when defeating yesterday’s Musidora Stakes heroine Give And Take by three lengths at Sandown Park on April 27th.
The £70,000 Al Zubarah London Gold Cup Handicap (3.00pm, 11 runners) for three-year-olds over 10 furlongs is a good pointer to future stars, with Al Kazeem (2011), Cannock Chase (2014) and Defoe (2017) among the recent winners. Newmarket trainer Roger Varian bids to follow up Defoe’s success with Masaarr (Andrea Atzeni, 9st 2lb), who finished strongly to win a mile handicap at Doncaster on May 5th.
The other two races on Newbury’s Saturday card are the £50,000 Olympic Glory Conditions Race (4.15pm, nine runners) over six furlongs for two-year-olds and the £40,000 mile Toronado Handicap (5.25pm, 10 runners).
Newbury also stages its annual Starlight Charity Raceday tomorrow, Friday, May 19th, with an eight-race programme starting at 1.30pm.