King castle

Raymond Tusk wins Porter Prize for Alan King

Alan King is among trainers hoping the dry spring doesn’t come at the expense of horses lining up in the Dubai Duty Free Finest Surprise Stakes, which kicks off a thrilling eight-race card at Newbury on Saturday.

Registered as the John Porter Stakes, the mile-and-a-half contest drew a field of seven and all bar twos are making their seasonal debuts.

Raymond Tusk returns to the scene of his decent runner-up effort at I Am Maximus in a competitive first hurdle in December – one of three unsuccessful tilts in this area – following a four-length victory in the conditions race in Doncaster last month.

I hope it doesn’t dry out too much for him – good, good to mild would be ideal. He seemed the obvious place to go after Doncaster

The Barbury Castle manager insists the recent outing on the flat will have done him good.

“He hasn’t quite gotten used to the hurdles this year, although he has raced well,” King said of the seven-year-old rider, who will once again be partnered with Martin Harley.

“He thought a bit about his old self at Doncaster the other day. He seems to be in good shape since then.

“I hope it doesn’t dry out too much for him – good, good to soft would be ideal. He seemed the obvious place to go after Doncaster. I think that may have done his confidence a bit of good .

The red Verdon also had a release already this quarter. The nine-year-old is returning from the trip after being beaten in the neck when he reappeared for a long two-mile run at Wolverhampton last week.

Ryan Moore, winner of the Listed Esher Stakes aboard the gelding son of Lemon Drop Kid last July, renews the partnership.

Coach Ed Dunlop said: “He did well in his run, when he was probably unlucky the other day with his first run back.

“Of course it’s competitive, but the horse is in good shape and we’re very happy with him. He is a lovely soul and I hope he runs well.

William Haggas, who won this race in 2012 with Harris Tweed and again last year with Al Aasy, is represented by Ilaraab, who must concede 3 pounds to his six rivals in his first run since dropping out of the St Simon Stakes on course and distance last October. .

Max Vega, who was a step behind that day at the tier weights, contends in the group three contest.

His trainer, Ralph Beckett, who won this race eight years ago with Cubanita, fears that watering to maintain the soil – officially described as good, good to soft in places – is not enough.

“He would prefer a good drop of rain and more, but he’s not going to get that,” Beckett said.

“I’m not sure we can turn things around with Ilaraab even with a 3-pound pull on this court, but it’s a good start and he’s doing great.”

Thunderous, trained by Charlie and Mark Johnston, who has not been seen since finishing fourth in the Hardwicke at Royal Ascot and was subsequently neutered, and third Stowell from Queen’s Vase, trained by John and Thady Gosden, make also their seasonal debuts.

Andrew Balding using Newbury as a starting point for Inviter (Alan Cowhurst/PA) (PA Archive)

Invite, the only filly in the race, completes the field.

Last seen chasing Eshaada when she was fifth in the Compound and Mares Stakes Group 1 at Ascot in October, trainer Andrew Balding believes she will be better with a cut underfoot.

He said: “I was very happy with her during the winter. It’s not the most exuberant workhorse, but I’m happy with its level of fitness.

“Obviously his best form is with real concession on the ground and while they say it’s always on the slower side of good, obviously it could be a bit quicker on race day.

“It seems like a good starting point for her and we’re just looking to build for the rest of the season.

“It will really come into its own when we have real slower pitch.”

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