Charlie Fellowes could be double-handed at Doncaster on Saturday as he unleashes King Ottokar and Chiefofchiefs on the opening day of the flat season.
Lincoln hope King Ottokar will be looking to build on two encouraging runs at the back end of last season, having begun the 2020 campaign in poor fashion, and his trainer is hopeful of doing just that.
“He’s a funny horse, this time last year he was struggling and going nowhere, he was a big, heavy horse and I think mentally he was just not in the right place. That was reflected in two poor runs at Ascot and Haydock," Fellowes told Tote.
“So we decided to try and geld him and see if we and lighten him up a bit. It did the trick, but it’s just taken him a bit of time to get his confidence back and start to enjoy it again. We saw the shoots of that last year with a decent run at Doncaster where he was unlucky, and another good run at Ascot in the Balmoral where he was drawn on the wrong side.
“You could see that he was coming back to himself and so he had a holiday and we turned him out for the first time since he was a two-year-old and I think he really enjoyed that. Since then we’ve had a clear preparation and he seems in good order and I’m hoping all those pieces will come together and that will be borne out in a good performance at the weekend.
“I think as a result of his poor runs last term, I wanted to build his confidence and ride him patiently to let him enjoy it again. There will be no complicated plan going into Doncaster, just get him out, get into a rhythm and wherever he’s happiest you can sit.”
Group assignments still on the table
Fellowes had once spoken of potential Group 1 targets for the son of Motivator, and while that has yet to come to fruition, the Newmarket handler still believes his gelding deserves a place at the top table.
“I’ve always said he is a group horse, and I think if you go back to his three-year-old season that was a very fair statement. If you look at his Royal Ascot run, particularly at the beginning of the race, it is remarkable how unlucky this horse gets. He has the perfect draw, we get a great jump out, look to be sat in the ideal position and then a horse on our inside is mad keen and then basically runs off with his rider. We get taken from being one off the rail in an ideal position to being out wide right at the back of the field. He runs a huge race to finish third, with his run just petering out in the final furlong.
“He then backed that up with another performance in the Sovereign Stakes at Salisbury where he just gets no run, in behind a wall of horses.
Whether Town Moor gets the rain that is forecast for the north of the country on Friday could decide whether the five-year-old lines up in the mile contest though, with his participation in doubt if conditions didn’t suit.
“I’ve seen some pictures of the track going around on social media and it’s not in great nick. The grass covering is poor which is very sad considering this is one of the best racetracks in the country.
“If there is no covering and there’s no rain, it’s going to be good to firm by the time we get to Saturday, and he wouldn’t run on that. I’m hoping the rain comes, and if it does, the clerk of course is confident that’ll be good to soft ground.”
‘A match made in heaven’ for Chiefofchiefs
Fellowes’ other runner the card is equally ground dependant and would be unlikely to run unless the heavens opened ahead of the racing.
“Over six furlongs at Doncaster, he does not want the ground quick,” Fellowes said of Wentworth Stakes fourth Chiefofchiefs before professing that the Cammidge Trophy looks set up for his son of Royal Applause.
“He’s a very talented horse who is best fresh and we’ve got Jamie Spencer booked to ride him.I think that’s a match made in heaven as he’s a hold up horse who loves to come late with a nice pace to aim at.”
Having spent much of his career over further, Chiefofchiefs returned last season with an impressive performance to take the Silver Wokingham over six furlongs, dropping back in trip. In hindsight it might have been a decision his handler might have wished he’d taken sooner.
“Looking back on it I don’t really know why I thought he was a mile or 10 furlong horse. He’s always been an extremely good work horse at home, I don’t think I’ve ever had a horse that could beat him on the gallops. Eventually the penny dropped so we thought we’d drop him back and let him roll,” Fellowes told Tote.
Let him roll they did, and he ran out an impressive winner at the Royal meeting under William Buick. Not only was the try at sprint trips an inspired decision, but it was some quick thinking for Fellowes to get his charge to Ascot in time.
“Chiefofchiefs was stood in a paddock five weeks before Royal Ascot. His owner took him out of training after Dubai when racing went into shutdown. When it hit the news that there was going to be a consolation race for the Wokingham I rang the owners and said can you get him into my yard straight away. I said he won’t get into the Wokingham but he’ll get into the consolation race and he will absolutely love Ascot.
“I don’t know how we got him there, but we did and he went and won which was remarkable.”
“The plan would be to run here and then head straight to Royal Ascot. If we miss the weekend because of the ground then it’s going to slightly complicate the plan a little bit because there’s not a lot for him between now and the end of April, so maybe we’d wait for something like the Victoria Cup.”
Guineas dream for once-raced winner
Six weeks prior to Royal Ascot coming around, Fellowes will be dreaming of Guineas glory, with impressive Newcastle maiden winner Vadream, his first entry in either of the Newmarket Classics. Before she can line up in the Group 1, though, her trainer wants to test out her stamina.
“She has always worked very well at home from day one, but she’s by Brazen Beau, so there has to be a question mark about whether she’ll stay a mile,” he confessed.
“We’re going to run her over seven furlongs in either the Nell Gwyn or the Fred Darling and that will tell us whether we step up to a mile or whether she wants to be coming back for something like the Commonwealth Cup. If she stays a mile, she’s very, very good because she has got a lot of speed.”
Getting Prince to fall in love again
From one of the new kids on the block, to a yard stalwart that has taken the team around the world, Prince Of Arran’s future is far from clear after a couple of uncharacteristically below-par runs at the start of the year.
“I hated his runs at Kempton and in Riyadh for various reasons, but mainly the start. It’s really unlike him to be slow out of the stalls. The last two Melbourne Cups he’s been the first horse to the furlong marker. The only reason I can think of for him to be so slow out of the gates is that mentally he’s not in the right place. He’s getting older, it’s harder to get him fitter and to maintain that fitness, so I think for that reason it’s possible that he’s just started to fall out of love with racing a bit,” Fellowes said.
“I have tweaked a lot of things we’re doing at home with him, and trying to vary his training as much as possible and get him enjoying it again. We’ll do some practice with the stalls and get him wanting to jump out again.
“He’s old and wise, so it’s not going to be a case of forcing him to do it. If he’s decided that he’s had enough, then so be it, he owes us absolutely nothing. He’s been a remarkable horse for my yard and it’ll be a sad day when we retire him. I don’t believe we’re at that point yet, I believe that I’ve seen enough spark at home to think we can get him to a stage where he wants to go and race and be competitive at the top level again but it’s just going to take a bit of horsemanship from my part.”
Get him in love with the game again, and Fellowes has pin-pointed the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot in May as Prince Of Arran’s next port of call.