George Guru, a racehorse who failed to sell for £1,000, is now on target for the £150,000 Ladbrokes All-Weather Mile Championships Conditions Stakes at Lingfield Park on Good Friday.
The seven-year-old, trained by Michael Attwater at Epsom, has improved from a rating of 71 to 102, winning two of his last three races at Lingfield Park under Rob Havlin.
An aversion to starting stalls has been overcome and the son of Ishiguru is going after the biggest prize of his career at the new All-Weather Championships Finals Day.
Karen Latchford, Attwater’s partner and assistant, said: “We have had George Guru since he was four. Buck Jones, who used to train near Guildford, sent him to us after taking him to the sales, but no-one wanted the horse, even for £1,000.
“Buck thought he might make a bumper horse. We put him in training and it soon became evident that the horse was potentially a lot better than a bumper horse.
“Young Mark Coumbe used to ride George Guru and once, for whatever reason, the horse just went under the stalls. Luckily, both jockey and horse came out of the incident unscathed, but George Guru started having issues with the stalls.
“He was using a lot of energy up, fighting the stalls handlers. We asked Yarmy this year if he would have George Guru for a couple of weeks and that sorted things out. We are now allowed to load George Guru with the gates open which has really helped.
“Since then he has run three times, with a win, a close second and another win. George Guru is now using more of his energy and ability within the races, and has got better and better.
“When the All-Weather Championships started in October, we never dreamt that George Guru would be good enough to be running on Finals Day on Good Friday at Lingfield Park – it is absolutely fantastic.
“We are a small yard, with 30 mainly low-band horses,, and based in Tattenham Corner Stables, which used to be Mick Haynes’ old place and we rent off Canisbay Bloodstock. Michael and I have been there since 2008.
“We are lucky enough to have two horses rated over 100, George Guru and Brave Echo. George Guru has gone up 11lb in the ratings over his last three races and we don’t know how much more improvement there is to come.
“Rab Havlin will continue to ride George Guru – he does not fight him, letting the horse get on with it and this settles him, enabling him to use his turn of foot.
“We have nine days to go and we could not be happier with the horse – he is in really good form. It would a great help to us if we could win on Good Friday.
“Buck is so pleased to have gorgeous George, having bred him out of a six-furlong mare.”
Robin Hoods Bay is another to come from modest beginnings, improving from a rating of 64 in May, 2011 to taking the £100,000 coral.co.uk Winter Derby at Lingfield Park on 22 March and is now going forward, rated 107, to the £200,000 Coral Easter Classic over 10 furlongs at Lingfield Park on Good Friday.
His Newmarket-based trainer Ed Vaughan said: “I am very pleased with him. He is the type of horse I don’t do a whole lot of work with at home. He had a breeze over three furlongs this morning and might do a bit over six furlongs on Saturday. He is a fit horse.
“I have always felt that Robin Hoods Bay is better on the All-Weather and it is great that a horse like him has the opportunity to race for really good money.
“He is a horse who has come a long way – he was mentally fragile early on and he has improved a lot from racing. He appreciates pace in his races and the consistent All-Weather surface.
“I think he is getting better. The Winter Derby was the plan and that came off – Good Friday will be a bonus. Luke Morris will ride again. Robin Hoods Bay is running against the same horses he met in the Winter Derby and, if he is in the same form, he should be thereabouts.”
Owner Alan Pickering, who was featured on BBC Radio 4’s In Touch programme yesterday evening, loves Lingfield Park.
He said: “Lingfield is my second home and I am looking forward to Good Friday. I was particularly proud to win the Winter Derby here. Newcastle has the pitman’s Derby, Epsom has the toffs’ Derby and Lingfield has the working men’s Derby. I am a working man.
“The Lingfield regulars are really pleased that their racecourse is on the map.”
Mike Murphy, trainer of American Hope (£150,000 32Red All-Weather Three-Year-Old Championships): “We have been thrilled with American Hope. We bought him at the February sales and when we got him home we knew he was a bit special.
“We could have saved him for a turf campaign, but we saw the massive prize money on offer for the All-Weather Three-Year-Old Championships on Good Friday, which is worth over £90,000 to the winner, so we thought we would have a go.
“I thought he was unlucky behind Ertijaal in the Spring Cup. His lack of experience at the course didn’t help him that day, but it was a bit of a farce in the International Stakes last time. We tried to settle him at the back but there was no pace and your not going to pick up from there and win.
“He is qualified now and he goes there with a big chance on Good Friday.”
William Muir, trainer of Stepper Point (£150,000 bookmakers.co.uk All-Weather Sprint Championships) and Big Baz (£200,000 Coral Easter Classic): “Stepper Point surprised me when he won the Fast-Track Qualifier so impressively.
“Through the end of last year we were talking about taking him to Dubai and the owner said he was going to keep him for the rest of his racing career, so we gelded him but he didn’t take it that well. We decided to forget Dubai and have a go at the Fast-Track Qualifier, which obviously worked out well.
“It was astonishing really because he had only done one breeze prior to the race and I didn’t think he would be ready enough. It was his first run on the All-Weather and Martin Dwyer’s first ride back and it all went like clockwork.
“People say he needs to lead but there was plenty of pace, so you can ride him however you like.
“I think Big Baz could be a top-class horse and you will see how good he is through the course of the season. He is first reserve for the Coral Easter Classic and hopefully he will get in.”
James Eustace, trainer of Major Crispies (£150,000 32Red All-Weather Three-Year-Old Championships) and Scottish Star (£50,000 coral.co.uk All-Weather Championships Apprentice Handicap: “Major Crispies is very well and worked yesterday for the first time since the Spring Cup. I was very pleased with him.
“I’m hoping Scottish Star will get in the apprentice handicap. He has had a good All-Weather season and loves it around here. Ryan Tate gets on very well with him, so I think they would be a good partnership for the race.
“He has won three times around Lingfield, but sadly did a suspensory after he won around here as a three-year-old and we gave him a year off then. He has a great record on the All-Weather and hopefully he will get in.”
Aprrentice star Oisin Murphy: “All-Weather Championships Day is something a lot of trainers and owners will have been aiming their horses at. It’s a great initiative and boosting prize money into All-Weather meetings has really helped.
“Obviously, prize money draws better horses and the standard of horses running on the All-Weather has improved. Hopefully, this initiative will continue to grow.
“My boss Andrew Balding has four horses entered on Good Friday and there is also an apprentice race, so hopefully a few of those will go close.”
The dedicated website www.awchampionships.co.uk has more details about the All-Weather Championships, including the leaderboards and the blog from Luke Morris.