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Simon Mapletoft on the AWC: Horses to follow – Sprint

Champion Pretend has had a summer holiday and will be back to begin his title defence in the Listed Golden Rose Stakes at Lingfield in November.

No horse has won two Championship Finals, but Godolphin’s reigning sprint king Pretend must have an outstanding chance of repeating his success in last Easter’s showpiece. It’s disappointing that the son of Invincible Spirit didn’t continue his relentless progress on a sole start on turf back in June, but the way he gunned down 2014 winner Alben Star at Lingfield suggests he will be tough to dethrone. Pretend goes back on the All-Weather a fresh horse after being kept under wraps since the summer by the champion trainer Charlie Appleby and probably heads to the Listed Golden Rose Stakes at Lingfield in November.

The biggest threat to Pretend’s stranglehold on the Sprint division is likely to come from a progressive new pretender such as David Lanigan’s Polybius. But for a car park draw, he may well have won the Golden Rose last November – a Fast Track Qualifier for Good Friday. He hasn’t been seen on an artificial surface since, but has progressed on turf to win a Listed race at Newmarket before finishing a close third in Group Three company at Ascot.

Naadirr, a winner at Kempton as a two-year-old, could also make his presence felt. Only a length behind Polybius at Headquarters, Marco Botti’s gelding has found his level in Listed grade and, with an official rating of 109, could be the type to bolster the Italian’s ‘A’ team for the winter season. Rising five, he remains lightly raced.

Progressing steadily is David Simcock’s young sprinter Doctor Sardonicus, who has demonstrated a lethal blend of speed and power around Chelmsford this autumn. He proved himself equally at home over the minimum trip when clocking a remarkable 58.5 secs in a 0-95 handicap at the Essex venue at the end of September. Improving at the right time, it’s hard to believe this Medicean gelding will not win races at a higher level.

Irish runners will continue to command respect and Johnny Murtagh’s Kasbah clearly has more to offer on sand following a decisive success at Wolverhampton in early October. Despite being hampered on the home bend, the three-year-old ran on strongly to deny a mark of 87 in a six-furlong Class 3. He needs to take his form to a new level if Good Friday is to become an option but has speed to burn and begins the season tantalisingly under the radar.

Mick Appleby has worked wonders with ex-Irish gelding Shipyard, who looks an absolute bargain at 14,000gns. Bought at the July Sales at Newmarket by owner Craig Buckingham, the six-year-old son of Pivotal has won handicaps at Musselburgh, Ripon and Ascot and looks tailor-made for those better five-furlong dashes at Southwell that upwardly mobile stable companion Poyle Vinnie did so well in last winter.

Irish raider Jamesie could prove a force, too. He has no secrets at the age of seven but has been a good servant to David Marnane, winning at Meydan a couple of years ago, and continues in fine form. Rated up around 100, he can supplement his autumn winning form around Dundalk and might just warrant a crack at the Final come Easter.