Raymond Tusk: owners turn to The Don to take care of unfinished business
Owners Middleham Park Racing feel they have unfinished business with the William Hill St Leger and are hoping the booking of Doncaster specialist Andrea Atzeni can help propel their Raymond Tusk to victory in the world's oldest Classic on Saturday.
The leading syndicate came within a whisker of capturing the St Leger in 2016 when Ventura Storm, trained like Raymond Tusk by Richard Hannon, led close home only for Harbour Law to sweep past and deny him by three-quarters of a length.
Raymond Tusk emulated Ventura Storm by winning the Listed Glasgow Stakes at Hamilton in July and found only leading Melbourne Cup contender Hamada too good in the Geoffrey Freer Stakes last month.
Tim Palin, racing manager for Middleham Park, who co-own Raymond Tusk with Kulbir Sohi, said on Tuesday: “Arguably we've a little bit of unfinished business with the St Leger. It was a real bittersweet day in 2016 as we half-thought we had it won with 100 yards to go.
“I never thought we’d have the chance to come back and try to set the record straight, but we’re back with a similar type of horse from the market’s point of view. We go there hopeful.”
Unlike Ventura Storm, who raced at two and was a Group 3 winner before running in the St Leger, Raymond Tusk – a general 16-1 shot for the St Leger – made his debut only in April.
However, the regard in which he is held has long been apparent with him contesting the Coral-Eclipse on just his third start and holding an entry in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
“Richard’s always held him in the highest regard and has always described him as one of the nicest horses in his yard,” added Palin.
Raymond Tusk will have the considerable assistance of Atzeni at a course where he excels. He has won the St Leger on Kingston Hill and Simple Verse, while he captured the Racing Post Trophy four years in a row from 2013.
Palin said: “He’s the Don of Doncaster and it was great work from Richard to get him booked. I’m not sure what it is he does that nobody else does, but he has a magic little potion he seems to find when he goes to Doncaster – he’s outstanding there."
Middleham Park have won three Group 1s but not yet a Classic, and Palin continued: “As a syndicate we pride ourselves on trying to compete with the very best. To be competitive against the likes of Godolphin, pit your wits against Ballydoyle and to be there is as much as we can ask for.
"To win Group 1s is stratospheric and if you have one capable of popping its head in front in a race of that calibre, that’s beyond our wildest dreams.”
Group 1s are firmly at the front of trainer Mark Johnston’s mind as well as he prepares to send a number of his leading lights from this season into battle over the weekend, heading by Derby second Dee Ex Bee in the St Leger.
The Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed-owned colt has failed to build on his Epsom heroics, but Johnston is confident conditions at Doncaster will suit.
“We’ve always thought it would be the ideal race for him, particularly the trip,” he said. “He looked in the Derby he’d get every inch of the extra two furlongs, and subsequently in his other races the trips he's been running over have looked a bit sharp for him.
“We’re confident the ground won’t be fast and the trip should suit so conditions are right. His chances are based on his Derby form rather than his races since. He basically told us what not to do with him in his races since Epsom.”
Talented two-year-olds Dark Vision and Main Edition are also set to be in action at the weekend for Johnston, who hopes to add to his achievement of becoming Britain’s winningmost trainer by collecting more big-race victories.
“Running in big races is always exciting and winning Group 1s and Classics is vitally important - always has been, always will be, regardless of records or numbers elsewhere,” he added.
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