It has been another All-Weather campaign to remember for Mick Appleby and he is hoping to sign off in style on Finals Day at Newcastle on Friday, all live on Sky Sports Racing.
The Rutland-based handler has already sealed a remarkable seventh trainers’ championship title, having reeled in the fast-starting George Boughey.
He heads north to Newcastle this week with a typically-strong squad, headlined by this winter’s most impressive improver in Zealot – a seven-time winner since December – who will target the Easter Classic (3.00) for The Horse Watchers.
Speaking to Sky Sports Racing on Wednesday, Appleby said: “Zealot has thrived since he came to the yard and just kept improving.
“He’s a lovely big horse, we just need to iron out his starts because he normally misses the break. But, he’s got such an engine and a huge stride that he tends to get himself back into the races. If he wasn’t missing the break, he’d probably win too easily!
“I’d like to think he can keep improving and I don’t think we’ve hit the ceiling yet with him. I’m hoping he can have a good campaign on the grass as well.
Zealot could be joined in the race by stablemate United Front, although Appleby is set to discuss his options with owner Nic Brereton, with the six-year-old also entered in the Mile (3.35).
“We’ve not 100 per cent decided on United Front yet and whether we want to take on Zealot,” Appleby said. “I’ll speak to the owners and see if they want to go over the mile and two furlongs.
“He ran well in Dubai and I’d think he’d have a decent chance as well. There wouldn’t be much between them.”
Appleby also has two in the Sprint final (4.45) where Kachy Stakes winner Annaf should be hard to beat under James Doyle.
“He’s in tremendous form and just keeps going from strength to strength,” Appleby said.
“He’s not the biggest of horses but is tough as nails. We’re hoping he can go and win on Friday and then freshen him up for the grass.
“It’s a shame Rossa (Ryan) has been called away to ride at Lingfield but we’ve got a good stand-in with James Doyle.
“I’m not 100 per cent sure yet on King Of Bavaria because he is in at Musselburgh on Saturday as well. If he ran on Friday, he’d go very well.”
In the Three-Year-Old final (1.50), Appleby will be hoping Michaela’s Boy can bounce back from a disappointing trip to Chantilly last month when the son of Ribchester was only eighth of nine in the Listed Prix Ronde de Nuit.
Highly tried as a two-year-old, Michaela’s Boy scored over five furlongs at Gosforth Park in October before backing it up at Chelmsford at the start of December.
“The ground just went against him in France but he’s come back really well,” Appleby said.
“It’s a shame the race isn’t over five furlongs because the six furlongs just stretches him a little bit. We’ll try and hold him up and use his speed at the end.”
Down at Lingfield’s All-Weather Vase meeting on Friday, Appleby could also be well represented, including with the “tough” Baldomero in the Vase Sprint (3.15).
“He’s very versatile trip wise,” Appleby said. “It was Martin Dixon’s idea to try him over six furlongs and it’s worked really well.
“He’s such a tough horse, he just gives his all. Hopefully Billy [Loughnane] rides him.”
Reflecting on lifting another All-Weather title, Appleby said: “At Christmas I thought we had no chance when we were 15 behind George Boughey but we had about 20 winners in January and it’s all just come right.
“It’s a good achievement and I’ve got to say well done to all the staff for their work through the winter to make it possible and all the owners who have backed the yard.”
Watch every race from All-Weather Finals Day at Newcastle and the Vase meeting from Lingfield, all live on Sky Sports Racing on Friday April 7.