By Simon Jackson.
Belardo has been slashed in price for the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot after a tenacious victory in the £350,000 Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.
The Roger Varian-trained four-year-old travelled towards the rear of the field under Andrea Atzeni before challenging late to lead inside the final furlong to score by a length in the Group 1 contest on Saturday.
He has been cut to 5-1 (from 25-1) with Paddy Power and 5-1 (from 20-1) with William Hill, and is now best-priced at 10-1 for the one mile contest on the first day of Royal Ascot 2016.
The success was the second at the top level for the son of Lope De Vega who won the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes as a two-year-old but failed to build on the feats of his impressive juvenile season last term.
The highlight of his three-year-old campaign was a close second to Solow in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at the 2015 Royal Meeting, a performance that Varian admitted led to him staying in training this year.
Varian said: “Belardo salvaged his career last year when chasing home Solow at Ascot and that really told us that we ought to keep him in training. To win a race like this is why connections have kept him in training, so I am delighted for [owners] Sheikh Mohammed and his Godolphin operation and Prince Faisal. They have kept patience with the trainer and have been rewarded now.
“I have always kept faith in the horse because his work at home was outstanding and he has got masses of talent. We messed him around a bit last year, to be fair. We had him ready for races and then we didn’t run because of the firm ground. We dropped him back to six furlongs at Haydock but he is not a sprinter.
“I probably messed about with him too much but he came back and told us what a good horse he was when chasing Solow at Ascot. The team at home have done a fantastic job and I am delighted for connections and delighted for the horse as well because I thought he deserved another big one.
“I didn’t want to be so far behind early but he wasn’t great coming out of the gates and he is a horse who loves coming through horses. I was happy throughout the race but I was worried a furlong from home when he wasn’t getting light to come between horses.
“When Andrea pulled him out to go round them, I was worried that he might just throw it away going left-handed but he straightened himself out and won well on the line.
“He will certainly be trained for Royal Ascot now and, God willing, we get there in one piece.”
Atzeni added: “The last time I sat on Belardo in a race was the Dewhurst – I have galloped him once since – and it was great to be back on him. He is a good horse on his day and I would like to thank His Highness Sheikh Mohammed for letting me ride him. It’s a pleasure to be back on him.
“They went quick and he sort of half fell out of the stalls but that’s him and he travelled well into the race. Once I got a bit of daylight, he picked up well like he can do, so it was great.
“The ground is on the easy side of good and he probably needs a bit of cut to be at his very best. On his day, he is very good.”
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