Lake to turn tide

Sue Montgomery expects the July Cup to mark the swift return of a top sprinter
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The Independent Online
LAKE Coniston will be out to prove a point to Europe's leading sprinters in the July Cup at Newmarket on Thursday. The colt was beaten for the first time in five runs at Royal Ascot 17 days ago, but his trainer, Geoff Lewis, is adamant that the star of his stable can regain his hoofhold on the six-furlong title this week.

The neatly named son of Bluebird went under by a head to one of his rivals this week, So Factual, in the Cork and Orrery Stakes, but only after forfeiting ground by drifting across the width of the course in the closing stages.

"It was the draw that beat him," Lewis said. "He had to come up the course on his own, away from the other fast horses, and he was three lengths clear at one point.

"But he just lost concentration towards the end, and when he heard and saw the crowd he began to go over to his mates on the far rails."

Lewis acknowledged that the Ascot plan to keep the front- running four-year-old away from his rivals - which he hatched with Lake Coniston's regular rider, Pat Eddery - slightly misfired. "We could have tacked over in the early stages, but the idea was to let others do their own donkey work. As it turned out we did give the ground away, but it was a close thing. And we were giving the winner 4lb."

Lake Coniston is in top condition for this week's flyers' showdown, the centrepiece of the three-day July meeting. "He looks marvellous," Lewis said, "and he has kept his condition all season. He made such progress over the winter that he is 20kg heavier than he was when he was three."

The Ascot race was run in a fraction outside the course record, and Lake Coniston, who is happiest when there is some give, is likely to face fast ground again this week.

The good news for Lewis is that Newmarket's managers are pumping thousands of gallons of water on to the July course from their aquifier beneath the gallops to keep the sting out of the ground.

The Epsom-based trainer will not use the state of the going as an excuse for defeat. "A good horse will overcome that sort of thing. We were disappointed after Ascot, but not deflated, because we knew we got beaten because of circumstances. I'll be very surprised if So Factual can finish in front of us again."

Lake Coniston, winner of six of his 13 races, is owned by Highclere Thoroughbreds, a syndicate run by the Queen's racing manager, Lord Carnarvon. He cost just 26,000 guineas as a yearling, and has so far won nearly pounds 135,000. He is the first genuine championship contender to be trained by Lewis - who rode Mill Reef in his days as a jockey - and is the apple of the little man's eye.

Lewis recalled: "He was going to be a star from day one. When we first start our youngsters at home we send them down a strip in a 55-acre paddock, and it wasn't long enough for him."

On Tuesday, the Derby third, Presenting, steps under the spotlight in the Princess of Wales Stakes. The Mtoto colt threw a wobbler as he boarded the plane taking him to last weekend's Irish Derby, but if necessary he can walk to work this time as John Gosden's yard is less than two miles from the course.