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Trainers facing off for Kentucky place.

ONLY days after the Cheltenham Festival has finished, attention is focused on the all-weather at Kempton where pounds 80,000 is up for grabs in the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes.

The winner of this nine-furlong contest is also guaranteed a place in the Kentucky Derby itself at Churchill Downs, so not surprisingly a few of the big yards have engaged some precocious-looking three-year-olds.

Mark Johnston has two runners, as do John Gosden and Richard Hannon while Mick Channon and Paul Cole are also involved.

Johnston's leading representative looks to be Haashed, winner of his only start to date at Lingfield in November, and he created a very nice impression.

He beat a Barry Hills inmate with a rating of 75 by eight lengths, which suggests he is well above average.

He holds entries in the 2000 Guineas and Derby and is a half-brother to his stablemate, the smart Zaham.

However, it is eyecatching that Richard Hills has ditched him in favour of Gosden's Mafaaz, and one look at his form makes it easy to see why.

Winner of a Kempton maiden, he had Evasive back in third, with that horse subsequently winning the Horris Hill and featuring among the leading lights for the Guineas.

He topped that despite getting beat in the Timef orm Million next time when finishing a close-up fifth.

The winner, Donativum, scored at the Breeders' Cup, runner-up Crowded House won the Racing Post Trophy and fourth home Liberation ran a cracker in Dubai recently.

That form is red-hot and as Gosden is not averse to taking his team abroad, a crack at the Kentucky Derby is likely for a man who used to train in the States.

The valuable Dragonfly Stakes has gathered only a field of six, and surely Hannon's Scintillo can gain his first victory since taking a Group One in Italy as a juvenile.

Saddled with a penalty for that success, he struggled to cut much ice last year, but was never really disgraced against some top-class opponents.

Beaten only a length in the Winter Derby Trial on his latest start, he has shown he stays this 12-furlong trip well in the past, and on official ratings, he should take plenty of beating.

David Evans has secured the services of Jamie Spencer for Obe Royal in the Newchapel Selling Stakes.

Spencer is desperate for winners in his quest to be the leading jockey on the all-weather, but as he is going out to Dubai for the World Cup, he needs a few victories in the bag.

Obe Royal has been in great heart of late, winning three of his last four at a similar level and Spencer was on board for his last win.

Geeveem was smart enough to finish fifth in the Welsh National in his prime, but he has been sold out of Paul Nicholls' yard and is now with Harry Hogarth.

He reappears in the Western Daily Press Hunters Chase at Chepstow and it might just be that he has new-found enthusiasm.

CAPTION(S):

DECENT SHOUT: Richard Hannon's Scintillo (L) stands a good chance in the Dragonfly Stakes
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 17, 2009
Words:518
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