Marking himself out as a most progressive sprinter last season when winning the Portland Handicap, Roger Teal’s Oxted heads to Newmarket on Saturday to face his biggest test yet.
The Group 1 July Cup is on the four-year-old’s agenda as he bids to give his handler a first success at the highest level.
Speaking to the Tote on Tuesday, Teal was purring about Oxted’s homework ahead of his visit to HQ.
“He did his last piece of work this morning, so he’s all set now,” the Lambourn trainer told the Tote.
“Everything has come into place and we’re really happy with the way he worked this morning and now we’ll just keep him ticking over until the race.”
A relative outsider in the race, taking on the likes of Group 1 winners Golden Horde and Hello Youmzain, the son of Mayson has to prove he has what it takes, but that hasn’t fazed Teal.
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s a Group 1 and there are some really nice horses there, but he might end up being a tad overpriced. But I don’t make the prices, and it means a bit less pressure for us than it would going into the race as favourite.”
Gradual improvements for this ‘shell of a horse’
It’s been a steady rise to the top for Oxted, who was mixing it in handicap company last season, before returning with an impressive success in the Group 3 Abernant Stakes at Newmarket in June.
His progression has not come as a surprise to his trainer though;
“We liked him a lot last season. But, as is typical with sprinters, he had a few things go wrong. We had the strange four-horse race at Doncaster where everything seemed to go against us, and he clipped the rails.
“Then we went back to Newmarket with him and he fluffed the start and then ran on to finish second. After he won the Portland, becoming the first three-year-old to do it in nearly 20 years, I thought he must be better than a handicapper.”
While his performance in the Portland last year was a fantastic sight for the Teal team, it’s always been about the future with the horse.
“He was just a frame last year. You could just see he was a bit of an empty shell, and I knew that if he could strengthen up over the winter he would make up into a proper sprinter this season.”
Faith retained in Cieren Fallon in the saddle
Ridden in his last three outings by Cieren Fallon, some might have turned to a more experienced jockey for this Group 1 test, but Teal is keen to repay the young rider for his success on board Oxted.
“Cieren has got on well with the horse from day one. I know it’s a big ask for a young lad in a Group 1, but he gets on with the horse and has done nothing wrong.”
Fallon’s usual 3lbs claim is lost at the top level, but it’s something that doesn’t really bother the horse’s handler:
“I know he doesn’t get to use his claim, but he didn’t in the Abernant. We backed Cieren in that and he went and won the race for us. I think it would be quite cruel to take him off and put a big, flash jockey on him. The lad’s got a big future in racing, and hopefully, we can be featured in the book that he ends up writing!”
A major milestone for the Teal team?
The yard’s Kenzai Warrior was sent off as a bit of a dark horse in the 2000 Guineas, but a fluffed start soon put paid to that hope of a first Group 1 triumph.
Oxted looks to right those wrongs, and victory at Newmarket would be something special.
“It would be fantastic for the whole place. We’ve got a good team of lads here, everything seems to be going well, and it would just be the icing on the cake for everyone and would be fantastic to help promote our business.
“It’s what we’ve been working towards, and hopefully we can have a chance. I think he’s going to run a big race.”
Oxted’s sibling waiting in the wings
Even if Oxted is unable to step up to Group 1 level, there is still hope for the family, with his full brother Chipstead also in the care of Teal.
“His full brother is a bit of a dude. He’s coming along nicely. We’re not pushing him, we’re just taking our time with him,” Teal explained.
“We did the same with Oxted as a two-year-old, not running until the last day of the season, so we’re just bringing him on gradually. I think he seems to be a little bit more advanced than Oxted at this stage of his career.”
Whether or not Oxted can beat his brother to it and raise the roof on Saturday remains to be seen, but the future looks bright for the Roger Teal team, who look to have a squad of horses capable of taking them to some of the biggest events in the racing calendar.