Unbeaten Commonwealth Cup favourite Vandeek returns in Sandy Lane

The Sandy Lane Stakes (1200m) at Haydock on Saturday has been the biggest winner of all from the creation of the Commonwealth Cup. It got a lift from Listed to Group 2 level in 2015 and has since served as the preeminent trial for Royal Ascot's big sprint for three-year-old's.

This race is the natural first stop for Vandeek, who remains a dominant favourite for the Commonwealth Cup. He went unbeaten last year in four runs over six furlongs, landing the Group 1 Prix Morny and Middle Park Stakes. At every turn, he was either impressive or had his form franked. It would be only a minor stretch to say Vandeek was as dominant among the sprinting juveniles as City Of Troy was among the Classic prospects.

The profiles of those trying to beat him cover an impressive spread of unlikely Group-class sprinters. It is fitting that there are seven of them. Inisherin, who was sixth in the 2,000 Guineas, has only run over a mile and if anything he is bred for further than that. Orne ran in the French Guineas, but is at least bred to be a sprinter. Esquire won the Greenham, a Guineas trial which has at least produced Commonwealth Cup winners. 

At the other end, Pandora's Gift comes off a productive winter on the all-weather. Airman arrives straight out of two five-furlong wins, seemingly with a big reputation at home (went off 8-11 on debut) but much to find in the world of tangible form.

If you are looking to oppose Vandeek, it will likely need one of the others to step up. He has yet to prove himself at three, but evidence he may have plateaued is scant. Both of his winning half-brothers peaked at three. His physique is sufficiently promising. His high head carriage is noted, but that is the sort of negative only ever hurled at horses with everything else in their favour.

In short, we have here an odds-on favourite who deserves their position. At least with there being eight runners, those who baulk at taking short odds can play each-way with some sort of edge at best odds. The suggestion there would be Pandora's Gift, who is an uncomplicated ride and has not stopped improving on the evidence of her Listed win last time. 

While this will be her turf debut, there is plenty of precedent for three-year-olds converting their winter improvement to turf. It has even been done a couple of times in the Sandy Lane, as recent winners of this race Rohaan and El Caballo can attest.
Race analysis by Keith Melrose

Vandeek 'in good order' for reappearance

The wraps come off last year’s leading British-based juvenile Vandeek for the first time in nearly eight months as Simon and Ed Crisford prepare him for his first big summer assignment, the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot next month.

The son of Havana Grey has enjoyed a trouble-free winter in Newmarket under his regular rider Dan Hutchison, who plans to be at Haydock to cheer him on, just as he was at the Rowley Mile last September for his most recent win in the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes.

Vandeek was a regular sight on Warren Hill through the spring but has been using the peat moss gallop close to the Crisfords' base at Gainsborough Stables for his fast work of late, most recently when reunited with James Doyle last weekend. He left two horses in his wake that day.

Joint-trainer Ed Crisford said: “It was always the plan to give Vandeek a bit more time and start his season off here as he needs a run before Royal Ascot. It’s not ideal with ground being as it is even though he’s won on it before, primarily as it's his first start of the season. 

"He’s going to improve from the race as he hasn’t run since September but we’ve done all we can with him at home and he’s in good order. He’s had a clean run into race but it’s going to be sticky tiring holding ground, but it is what is and you can’t control the weather.”

What they say

Karl Burke, trainer of Alaskan Gold
He ran a great race in the Greenham, and was unlucky not to be second. He'll handle the ground and, if it slows the others up, he's got a good chance of a place.

Chris Richardson, racing manager to Cheveley Park Stud, owners of Esquire
He’s dropping back in trip but he doesn’t have to carry a penalty for his Greenham Stakes win and hopefully he can run a nice race although I don’t expect him to trouble the favourite. He’s using this as a possible stepping stone to the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Adam Ryan, assistant to Kevin Ryan, trainer of Inisherin
He ran a huge race in the 2,000 Guineas. He travelled very well and showed a lot of natural speed that day so we thought we'd drop him in trip. He's lightly raced and there is a lot more to come from him. I'm looking forward to seeing him at the new trip.

Thady Gosden, joint-trainer of Orne
He’s dropping back two furlongs in trip from the French 2,000 Guineas. He has plenty of natural speed and hopefully the fitting of headgear will sharpen him up.

Oisin Murphy, rider of Purosangue
He ran very well at be third on his comeback at Ascot and should handle the ground as he has form on it last year. Obviously, we have a lot of respect for Vandeek but hopefully he can run a nice race.
Reporting by David Milnes