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Vandeek the star attraction in Sandy Lane

 Vandeek (right) Vandeek (right)
© Photo Healy Racing

Ed Crisford has admitted the forecast testing conditions at Haydock will not be ideal for Vandeek’s eagerly-anticipated return to action in Saturday’s Betfred Supports Jack Berry House Sandy Lane Stakes.

The Havana Grey colt carried all before him in the juvenile sprinting division last season, winning each of his four starts, including Group One victories in the Prix Morny and the Middle Park Stakes.

His top-level triumph in France and his preceding Group Two success in the Richmond Stakes at Goodwood were both achieved on soft ground, but with a tilt at the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot in four weeks’ time looming large, connections would prefer to be running on a quicker surface on his comeback.

Crisford, who trains Vandeek in partnership with his father Simon, said: “Vandeek has done well over the winter and his preparation has gone great. Obviously, starting him on this sort of ground isn’t that ideal, but he needs to run.

“We know he’s won on soft ground before, so it’s not too concerning, it’s just that it’s his first run of the year and they’re always entitled to improve, but bar that he’s in great order.

“This has been the long-term plan and the only thing you can’t control is the weather, so it is what it is. We know he goes on the ground, so it’s just a matter of getting him out now and giving him his first run of the year.

“All athletes will improve for that match practice and he’s entitled to improve for sure, but we’ve done as much as we can at home to get him ready for his first run.

“Hopefully he’s got a long year ahead of him, so we’ll see how he gets on on Saturday and off we go for the season.”

The horse rated the biggest threat to Vandeek by bookmakers is the Kevin Ryan-trained Inisherin, who drops to six furlongs after finishing sixth over a mile in the 2000 Guineas three weeks ago.

Adam Ryan, assistant to his father, said: “I thought he ran a huge race in the Guineas, travelled well throughout and showed quite a lot of speed, so we thought we’d drop him back in trip for this.

“He’s in great order, we couldn’t be happier with him. Vandeek was a superstar last year and he’s obviously the one to beat, but we’re very happy with our fella and we’ll find out a lot more about him on Saturday.

“You never know whether they’ll handle soft ground until you try it, but if he does have a bit more stamina on his side, and obviously he’s won over a mile, it could be a positive.”

Other contenders include Andrew Balding’s Commonwealth Cup Trial third Purosangue, David O’Meara’s Greenham Stakes winner Esquire, Richard Fahey’s unbeaten dual winner Airman and the Stuart Williams-trained Pandora’s Gift, who switches to turf after winning her last four races on the all-weather.

“She’s been very straightforward and just progressed every race, and I think she’s come on again since her last race and I’m very happy with the condition of her,” said Williams.

“She’s fast and then she settles and then she can kick on again. We’ll find out if she doesn’t like soft ground if it’s soft, but I would imagine we’d run whatever happens.”

John and Thady Gosden’s Orne and Alaskan Gold from Karl Burke’s yard complete the line-up.