Vandeek Heads KHK Racing's Class of 2024

Vandeek | Racingfotos.com

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Chris Wall, racing manager for owners KHK Racing, has issued a positive bulletin on last year's star juvenile Vandeek (GB) and dual Classic winner Eldar Eldarov (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) as the countdown continues to the start of the Flat season on turf.

The yellow-and-black-striped colours of KHK Racing have been carried to notable success since they first appeared on British racecourses in 2020 and the latest campaign was arguably the operation's best yet following the emergence of the unbeaten Vandeek, who proved himself a high-class sprinting two-year-old for Simon and Ed Crisford when signing off with back-to-back Group 1 victories in the Prix Morny at Deauville and Middle Park S. at Newmarket.

By Havana Grey (GB) and out of a mare who raced exclusively at five furlongs, Vandeek looked all speed in his four starts as a juvenile and his connections have no plans to step him up in trip for a tilt at the G1 2,000 Guineas, with all roads instead leading to the G1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot on Friday, June 21.

“Vandeek has wintered well so far and everybody is very happy with him,” Wall said of the exciting colt. “He's just started cantering away and the Sandy Lane at Haydock [on Saturday, May 25] is hopefully where we'll make our seasonal debut en route to the Commonwealth Cup. It's so far so good and hopefully the old British weather won't interfere too much with him.

“It's exciting and hopefully he can build on what he achieved last year. You'd be thinking that he'd be capable of doing that looking at the type of horse he is. Physically, you'd be expecting him to strengthen and improve as a three-year-old, so we'll hope that proves to be the case.”

Vandeek's big target in the first part of the season, the Commonwealth Cup, was in the news on Tuesday when it was announced that the Group 1 event was in danger of being downgraded in 2025, depending on its performance this year.

Wall, who retired from the training ranks in 2022 after 36 years in that career, was clearly taken aback by the news as he said, “I would be very surprised if that was to be demoted. All races have cycles and some years where they perform better than others. I would have thought overall that the Commonwealth Cup has performed very well. I can't believe that it would be demoted just yet.

“I was on the racing committee when I was still training, back in the day when that [the introduction of the Commonwealth Cup] was actioned, and we always thought it was a positive move. It hasn't been going that long, but it's had some pretty good winners in that time. You can't take too short-term a view of a race like that, you've got to give it time to work. I think it's worked well so far and I was very surprised to hear that they were thinking of demoting it.”

One of the leading contenders for the 2023 running of the Commonwealth Cup was KHK Racing's Sakheer (Ire) (Zoffany {Ire}), who failed to meet expectations in the race itself and hasn't been seen in competitive action since.

An emphatic winner of the G2 Mill Reef S. at Newbury as a two-year-old, Sakheer has stayed in training with Roger Varian according to Wall, who is hopeful that the team's patient approach will pay off when the colt returns to the track in 2024.

“Sakheer just wasn't thriving last year,” said Wall. “The couple of runs he had were disappointing to say the least. We gave him a break after Ascot and tried to get him ready for an autumn campaign, but he still wasn't thriving. We couldn't find anything amiss, so we decided we'd give him time and freshen him up.

“He's done well physically and another one who has strengthened and put on weight. He looks very well, but we haven't decided yet where he might go. To start with we need to get him back on the track and performing well. Then we can develop a plan from there.”

More concrete plans are in place for fellow Varian trainee Eldar Eldarov, who has been a terrific servant to his connections having won the G1 St Leger at Doncaster in 2022 before doubling his top-level tally with victory in last year's Irish equivalent.

Eldar Eldarov has been off the track since that success at the Curragh in September, but that has all been part of the plan, reported Wall, as the five-year-old gears up for a potential trip to Dubai next month.

“Eldar Eldarov has done very well this winter and put on a lot of weight,” said Wall. “If he's performing well enough at home he may well go for the Dubai Gold Cup on World Cup night. If the weather interferes and we can't get him ready for that, then he'd make his debut like last year in the Yorkshire Cup.

“There was nothing wrong with him [after the Irish St Leger]. We had pretty terrible ground everywhere and Roger Varian took the view that the horse's optimum trip is a mile and six furlongs. Although he stays two miles, he's probably better at a slightly shorter trip. The only other race he could have run in was the Long Distance Cup on Champions Day, but that was always going to be very testing ground.

“We thought if we were going to have him ready for Dubai it made sense for him to have his break a bit earlier, so that he could come into training earlier in the year to get him fit enough for that, if everything goes right.”

Away from the well-established names in the KHK Racing ranks, My Cloud (Ire) (Blue Point {Ire}) and True Cyan (Ire) (No Nay Never) also came in for a positive mention from Wall, both three-year-olds who showed plenty of ability on their respective debuts.

True Cyan looks set to step up in grade having impressed when beating a pair of next-time-out winners at Newmarket in September, while My Cloud–a half-brother to the multiple Group 1-winning miler Palace Pier (GB) (Kingman {GB})–was beaten only narrowly when having his first start at Newcastle earlier this week.

“We'll probably start her off in one of the Classic trials if all is well,” Wall said of True Cyan. “We'll see what that tells us. She did win well on debut and she's a filly who, physically, you'd expect her to be a better three-year-old. She remains an exciting prospect and all the reports so far are positive.

“My Cloud did everything right at Newcastle bar getting the win. It was just his lack of experience which got him beaten. He came to win his race and when he was challenged he had no idea what was expected of him until the penny dropped a bit too late.

“He remains a nice prospect and he's clearly got talent. He's a big horse and you'd expect him to improve through this year. I think Roger may not throw too much at him early on, but we'll see what he can do, how he progresses, and work a plan out as we go.”

The KHK Racing team earned total prize-money of £685,623 in Britain last year and that came from only 17 individual horses who carried their colours on the racecourse. Wall confirmed that there is no plan to massively expand their boutique team for 2024, preferring to focus on quality over quantity.

“I don't think KHK is ever going to be about large numbers,” said Wall. “I think we'll probably be around the 20-mark for horses this year and I'm sure that Shaikh Khalid [bin Hamad Al Khalifa] will be wanting to restock at the breeze-ups where he's had quite a bit of success in the past.

“We have a nice, exciting team and one or two horses still to run who are three-year-olds now and well-bred. You never know whether something might pop up out of those as well. It's an exciting time and we've got some nice horses to go to war with.”

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