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Lakenheath handler Mark Wallis sees unfancied Antigua Romeo storm to success in the Essex Vase and has plenty of interest in Sunday's Blue Riband semi-finals at Towcester




Mark Wallis described unfancied Antigua Romeo’s performance to net him the first Category One event of the year as ‘sensational’.

The 8/1 shot blew the field away at Romford last Friday night to hand Lakenheath’s Imperial Kennels the Coral Essex Vase and the £10,000 first prize.

With joint 9/4 favourite Antigua Rum coming in third, Wallis admitted it could not have gone much better.

Essex Vase winner Antigua Romeo with Kevin Ulla and Kat Lawrence, kennelhands to Mark WallisPicture: Steve Nash Photography
Essex Vase winner Antigua Romeo with Kevin Ulla and Kat Lawrence, kennelhands to Mark WallisPicture: Steve Nash Photography

“No, it was a really good final and I said last week I felt Antigua Romeo was a little under-estimated if he broke quickly,” said the handler.

“He smashed out a cracking race and once he led from the front, with the way he’s been running lately he was never going to get caught. His time was sensational, his best time by a long way and his fastest time in a competition in a final so yes, I’m really pleased.

“It is a good start to the year for the kennel and the other dog ran really well and was third as well and we had a couple of other winners on the night so it was a real good night for the kennel.”

Mark Wallis at Imperial Kennels in LakenheathPicture: Mark Westley
Mark Wallis at Imperial Kennels in LakenheathPicture: Mark Westley

Wallis had been due to have eight runners going in the heats of the prestigious Blue Riband competition at Towcester on Saturday but the weather saw it called off and eventually put back to late Wednesday afternoon.

He managed to see seven through to the semi-finals of the 36-dog entry contest which will take place across 17 races on Sunday with the final coming the following Saturday.

Drunmcrow Brent (Race 1, 13:57), Coolavanny Kyser (Race 3, 14:32), Smile A Mile (Race 4, 14:52), Aero Madrid (Race 7, 15:48), Towstar Zelda (Race 9, 16:28), Towstar Diamond (Race 10, 16:48) and Towstar Izzy (Race 13, 17:44) will all be looking to win a spot in the final.

Meanwhile, the man who beat him to the latest Trainer of the Year away, his former assistant Patrick Janssens has two shots at the final with Kilara Lion (Race 1, 13:57) and Lenson Whelan (Race 3, 14:32) having both qualified from Wednesday.

The Hockwold-based handler had a rollercoaster of emotions at Towcester though, seeing three-year-old Henlow Puppy Derby and Sussex Cup winner Bockos Doomie, a key player in his trainer of the year success, suffer a subsequent life-ending injury in the second heat.

Other big competitions coming up in February include the Golden Jacket heats at Crayford before the Winter Derby begins at Monmore.

Wallis said: “Hopefully we can carry on our good start to the year. We always set out to win at least one Category 1 a year, so it is nice to have it by the third week of January.

“We have a reasonable calendar. Obviously there is a few less opportunities with Covid on the open race scene at the moment. There is a few tracks not doing opens but other tracks have committed, as always, to do their big competitions, which is great.”

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