Ken Condon says Moss Tucker is doing everything right ahead of Saturday’s €120,000 Weatherbys Ireland Greenlands Stakes, so hopes are high that last year’s ‘Flying Five’ winner can follow up his recent win at Naas before a possible first trip to Royal Ascot.

That the six-year-old is lining up as one of three Group 1 winners in a highly competitive field of 13 would surprise anyone familiar with his early career, not least Condon himself and the Charlie Bit Me Syndicate who own him, for when he started out Moss Tucker could hardly have looked further removed from the top-class sprinter he has grown into.

As Condon relates, he has been very much a “slow burner”. By Excelebration out of a mare whose four wins included a very ordinary novices’ handicap hurdle at Kempton for Philip Hobbs, he made his racecourse debut over a mile and a quarter at three and didn’t get off the mark until his sixth start, when dropped back to just short of a mile at Tipperary.

“He’s a big horse, and he’s quite lengthy and angular so he doesn’t resemble your typical sprinter in physique,” says Condon. “We started him at a mile and two because that was the way he was training. If he was getting school reports early on they’d have been saying ‘Must do better’, but he was just a slow learner.

“As he strengthened and had a few runs he just started getting quicker. It took him quite a few runs before he won, but like a lot of these sprinters he was steadily improving and maturing and he’s just got quicker as he’s got older. His Group 1 win in the Flying Five came on his thirtieth start.

“His strongest attributes are that he’s tough and honest, and he tries. He doesn’t always win, but he’ll always turn up and do his best.”

Powerful rivals

Moss Tucker will have last year’s easy winner Art Power among his rivals, but he looks sure to give a good account. Any easing in the ground will aid his cause.

Condon says: “He seems in great form and on good terms with himself. He made a very good start to his season in the Listed race at Naas and the Greenlands looks a good opportunity for him, although he does have to carry a penalty and in sprinting by definition on any given day something can pop up if they get lucky.

“He’s very consistent and he has a good record at the Curragh, winning a Group 3 there last year as well as the ‘Flying Five’, which was one of our best days. If all went well he’s got entries in both of the sprints he’s eligible for at Royal Ascot.

“They missed a lot of the rain that fell elsewhere in Ireland earlier this week, but so long as there’s no jar we are keen for him to take his chance. We just want some kindness in the ground.”

Big race wins on his local track are particularly sweet for Condon and his team, and Saturday will be the sixth anniversary of that memorable first Group 1 success with Romanised in the Irish 2000 Guineas.

“That day was huge for us, and all the more so for me and the family because it was at the Curragh, where we train,” he recalls. “It was a very special day, and with the way the wheel turns we now have two of Romanised’s two-year-olds here, a colt called Frankton and a filly named Wishful Eyes.

“He’s made a good start at stud in France, and he had his first winner there earlier this week, so there’s optimism that he can pass on some of his qualities.”

Late bloomer

Art Power was among the top sprinters Moss Tucker had in rear in the Flying Five. Tim Easterby’s splendid grey was not at his best that day, but just weeks later he sprang a 40/1 surprise in the QIPCO British Champions Sprint - a breakthrough first success at Group 1 level at an even later stage in life than Moss Tucker’s.

Until then he had always seemed more comfortable at Group 2 level, as in this race a year ago, where he made all in the hands of Oisin Murphy and beat Big Gossey comfortably by nearly five lengths (Moss Tucker was sixth), and back at the Curragh again in July, where he beat Go Athletico by nearly as far in the furlong-shorter Sapphire Stakes, when ridden by regular pilot David Allan.

The latter success made it four wins from four starts at the Curragh and five from five in Ireland, and there is no doubt Art Power loves travelling. Easterby has a terrific record in Ireland, and as he told us a year ago “we don’t send them unless they have a good chance.”

Regional and Shouldvebeenaring, separated by just a neck in last year’s Betfair Sprint Cup, are among the other main contenders. It’s a tip in itself that Ed Bethell’s Regional comes here in preference to returning to Haydock for the same afternoon’s Temple Stakes, while Richard Hannon’s Shouldvebeenaring was beaten only a nose by Mill Stream in last week’s Duke Of York Stakes and is certainly not merely filling up a box that was already coming here with leading Guineas contenders Rosallion and Haatem.

Matilda Picotte, last seen running well in Saudi, is another to take seriously in a strong field but, as Condon says, in these sprints anything can pop up if they get lucky.