05/18/2017 2:26PM

Ribchester looks rock-solid in Lockinge

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Ribchester is the deserving favorite Saturday at Newbury in the first major one-mile race of the European season, the Group 1 J.T. Lockinge Stakes.

The Lockinge is run down a straight course and is considered a somewhat testing mile. The ground at Newbury was rated good-to-soft as of Thursday, with eight horses set to oppose Ribchester, whose prime rivals appear to be Galileo Gold, Lightning Spear, and Somehow.

Ribchester, a Godolphin 4-year-old trained by Richard Fahey, entrenched himself as an elite miler during the second part of 2016. Third in Galileo Gold’s English 2000 Guineas to start his 3-year-old campaign, Ribchester improved steadily through the rest of the season. With better luck, he might have won the Group 1 Sussex Stakes on July 27 at Goodwood rather than finishing a close third behind The Gurkha and Galileo Gold.

Ribchester went on to land his first Group 1 in the Jacques Le Marois in August going a straight-course mile at Deauville. He capped his year with a strong second to the excellent filly Minding in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot while finishing well clear of Galileo Gold.

Ribchester was shipped to Dubai for his 4-year-old debut and finished a solid third in the $6 million Dubai Turf while racing over a nine-furlong trip and around a turn. Back home in England, and back at a straight-course mile, Ribchester looks formidable, and he even has a group-level stakes win at Newbury on his résumé.

The inconsistent Lightning Spear threw in two performances last year that suggest he could contend – a third to Tepin in the Queen Anne Stakes and a third behind Minding and Ribchester in the QE II. Lightning Spear, trained by David Simcock, generally has performed well with give in the ground.

There are two possibilities with Galileo Gold, who makes his 4-year-old debut Saturday. Either he tailed off the second part of last year after a sharp early-season campaign, or he peaked late at 2 and early at 3 and will never get back to his form.

The Aidan O’Brien-trained 4-year-old filly Somehow has yet to win above the Group 3 level but gets a three-pound break in the weights and could prove more successful focusing on shorter distances this season after racing mainly between 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 miles last year.

◗ Permian won the Group 2 Dante Stakes, a major Epsom Derby prep, by a half-length over Benbatl on Thursday at York. Crystal Ocean was another half-length back in third, while one of the leading Derby hopes, Cracksman, was scratched because of soft ground.