Spartan Army kick-starts February with last-gasp win at Lingfield

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February 5

Alan, like myself, is ploughing through a dry February – we are talking alcohol here, rather than a lack of winners – and I can never understand why so many people prefer to give their livers a break in January, when they are forced to abstain for 31 days, rather than the shortest month, which even in this Leap Year is only 29 days long.

This is a busy week for Barbury, culminating with Edwardstone dropping back to his favoured two miles in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury on Saturday, but Alan was not long in getting on the February scoresheet, winning on the Flat with Spartan Army at Lingfield on Sunday.

Spartan Army made it third time lucky on the Flat at Down Royal when trained by Joseph O’Brien, and with such an imposing physique close-up it was perhaps no surprise when a month later he made 170,000gns at the Tattersalls July Sale and promptly joined Alan.

However, though obliging at the first time of asking for us on his hurdling debut at Wetherby a month later, the success was no more than workmanlike, and, though he did win again at Taunton last spring, it was not until Lingfield, where he dug deep to get up in the last stride, that he showed us in the afternoons what he has been doing regularly on the gallops for the past 18 months,

Alan said:”I was very pleased and thought it would be good to get a spin on the Flat before we go back jumping, I wasn’t sure that two miles would be his right trip, but Rossa (Ryan) reckoned he got the distance very well, so that success opens up new avenues.

“Spartan Army has always been an exceptional worker on the gallops at home, but the problem we have faced is that he is a horse who takes an awful lot of getting fit. He reminds me very much of Viking Flagship in that respect – he also took an unbelievable amount of work to get him ready – but all horses are different and we just have to be harder with Spartan Army at home. We are getting there.”

We have six runners on Tuesday, split between Taunton and Market Rasen. Arguably, the pick of the sextet are The Doyen Chief in the novice hurdle at Taunton and Avakate in the bumper at Market Rasen.

Alan said:”I think a lot of The Doyen Chief, who is a fine big horse who is settling better in his races now. He went close first time out at Ludlow and then did the job at Market Rasen, where he only had to be pushed out to win comfortably.

“However, he never seemed happy in an novice handicap on the Winter Million card at Lingfield last time (unseating when beaten three out), and I think going back to a right-handed track might suit him better.

“Avakate looked very good when winning a Listed race at Doncaster first time out, somewhat surprisingly in view of the fact that she had not been exciting us on the gallops, but she has been working much better at home since that race, and after this we will get her ready for the mares bumper at Aintree’s Grand Nationa meeting.”

Finally, Palio could be interesting in the juvenile hurdle at Ludlow on Wednesday. You can put a line through his disappointing run at Aintree as he hated that testing ground. Sensibly, Daryl Jacob looked after him, and if the forecast rain steers clear of Shropshire he ought to run much better.