Awzaan masters Middle rivals

Mark Johnston moved a step closer to a second 2000 Guineas success as Awzaan maintained his unbeaten record with a powerful display in the Shadwell Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket.

Mark Johnston moved a step closer to a second 2000 Guineas success as Awzaan maintained his unbeaten record with a powerful display in the Shadwell Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket.

Fifteen years on from Mister Baileys’ triumph on the Rowley Mile, Johnston has another live candidate for the colts’ Classic with Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s four-time winner.

The son of Alhaarth has risen to every challenge, winning a Hamilton maiden, a conditions race on the July course, Newbury’s Mill Reef Stakes and registering a three-quarter-length success in the hottest renewal of the six-furlong Middle Park in recent years.

Richard Hills’ mount was well on top close home, but the layers took differing views on his Guineas chance.

Coral, totesport and Sky Bet were impressed enough to make him their 8-1 second favourite behind Arcano, Victor Chandler offer 10s while Ladbrokes, William Hill and Paddy Power are bigger at 12-1.

The Mill Reef winner took command from Frankie Dettori aboard Poet’s Voice heading inside the final furlong, and the staying-on Radiohead never looked like mounting a serious threat running to the wire.

Johnston said of the 4-1 winner: “They were going a bit quick for him a couple of times in the race and he stumbled at least twice.

“I thought he wasn’t going to pick up but when he goes, he goes. He’s a really good horse.

“He’s fantastic at home, but he got a little bit buzzed up on the July course here and it was Sheikh Hamdan’s idea to give him a break and it has worked perfectly.

“I don’t see a mile being a problem. He is a class horse with speed and he doesn’t go until you ask him.

“His maiden at Hamilton was a very, very good maiden and the conditions race he won here was also very good as all the runners had won their previous starts.

“He has improved with each run and has coped with whatever we have thrown at him.”

Awzaan is continuing a superb year for his owner, who kicked off the season with Ghanaati’s 1000 Guineas win in May.

The Sheikh’s racing manager Angus Gold said: “He is an amazing little horse, has a great attitude and is tough.

“I have not talked to Sheikh Hamdan yet but I don’t think he will run again this year, and we have to think of the Guineas next spring.

“Richard said he will definitely stay a mile. His mare, Nufoos, did most of her winning at seven furlongs, and Alhaarth stayed a mile and a quarter so I would be surprised if he didn’t stay a mile, especially with how relaxed he is.

“We haven’t had many two-year-olds to look forward to over the last few years, but that isn’t the case this time.”

Hills is enjoying a stellar 2009 himself, and said: “He’s quite a special horse. He’s got a good cruising speed and he can really quicken. He tended to go slightly left at the end, but it didn’t really matter.

“The pace was pretty full on from the start. I was stuck on the outside, I wanted a bit of cover but couldn’t get him where I wanted.

“He’s straightforward, quickens up and gets the trip really well.”

Radiohead had been fourth in the Mill Reef, a race which trainer Brian Meehan had been keen to put a line through, and he is now looking to California next month after the colt’s second-place finish.

He said: “The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile will be a consideration and based on the way he finished that race, there will be no problem with the trip.”

Gimcrack winner Showcasing was just a neck adrift in third having travelled powerfully throughout, and trainer John Gosden is pointing him towards the major sprints next year.

Gosden said: “He ran a good race and the form is solid but he just looked a little unbalanced running into the dip.

“That can happen here but he is probably a better horse on a flat track.

“We’ll bring him back next year, maybe at York in the Duke Of York, before going to Ascot.”

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