David Nicholls is responsible for five of the 28 runners in the Vodafone Stewards’ Cup and the Thirsk trainer elected to go for high numbers at today’s draw ceremony for the big handicap at Glorious Goodwood on Saturday.
By the time the 14th name had been drawn out of the hat, Nicholls had secured stalls positions for each of his runners, including favourites Lafi and Gift Horse, who are both priced at 11-2 with totesport.
Seven of the last 10 winners of the six-furlong dash have raced from stall 19 or higher, the exceptions being the Group-class performers Pivotal Point (one last year), Harmonic Way (eight in 1999) and Danetime (five in 1997).
Merlin’s Dancer was the first out and Nicholls went for 27, his others followed quickly and he chose 28 for Pieter Brueghel, 25 for Colonel Cotton, 23 for Lafi and 19 for Gift Horse.
However, he nearly went for a stands side draw for Gift Horse as he explained: “I was tempted to go low with Gift Horse but I was outvoted. He’s a real good horse and he’ll be knocking on the door.”
Nicholls, who won the race as a jockey on Soba in 1982 and 18 years later as a trainer with Tayseer, added: “We went high for all of them and we are very happy. We should get a good tow, there looks plenty of pace over there. You’ve got to be where the pace is.
“Merlin’s Dancer will go quick and Pieter Brueghel will go quick and the ground might just be that bit better over there.”
Fantasy Believer was runner-up 12 months ago from stall 24 and his trainer John Quinn went high again.
He said: “Fantasy Believer was second last year out of 24 and he’s in 20 this time, so you’ve only got eight inside you. He is well, very well. He ran well at York on Saturday – he showed plenty of spark – but York isn’t his track.
“Kevin Manning is coming over to ride in the Group One so he rides Fantasy Believer.”
The Malton handler will also saddle Caribbean Coral, who is also drawn on the far side, and he added: “Caribbean Coral in 24 is grand. Caribbean Coral is very well. He ran two solid races and then I ran him too quick. He’s been working well in a visor so we are putting a visor on him for the first time.”
David Metcalfe had hoped to secure a high number for his rapidly-improving filly Mecca’s Mate, but her name was 19th out of the hat and she will race from six.
But he still has high hopes for the grey so long as her stamina lasts out.
He said: “We were going to go high, anything above 22 we were going to go high otherwise we were going to go low. We had to go one way or the other and we’ve gone on the stands side. I just hope it doesn’t cut up too much.
“There’s a fair bit of pace on our side so they should tow us along a bit but we just don’t know if she’ll get the six.
“One thing about Mecca’s Mate she is well weighted. I think we are off 91 on Saturday whereas if it was next week I think we’d be off 103 so we’ve got a bit in hand.”
Willie Muir is another trainer with two runners.
Material Witness was the 22nd name to be drawn out and will race from eight while his stable companion, Texas Gold, was ninth out and will emerge from stall 22.
He said: “I’m quite happy with that. Texas Gold is over where Merlin’s Dancer is and that’s where I wanted to be and the other horse is away from him.”
Out After Dark was fifth out and the Gosforth Park Cup winner’s trainer Clive Cox also headed for the far side with stall 26.
He said: “We’ll see how it goes, but a lot will depend on the weather in the meantime with that fresh strip of ground over on the far side. We’ll see how that handles and we’ll take that chance.”
Totesport’s betting: 11-2 Lafi and Gift Horse, 11-1 Mutawaffer, 12-1 Mecca’s Mate, 14-1 High Reach, Partners In Jazz, Fonthill Road, 20-1 Philharmonic, Out After Dark, Connect, Am Brose, Merlin’s Dancer, Rising Shadow, 25-1 bar.