Sands Of Mali just held Invincible Army in a thrilling finish to the Armstrong Aggregates Sandy Lane Stakes at Haydock.
Sands Of Mali, winner of last year’s Gimcrack Stakes, showed he had come on for his victory at Chantilly on his reappearance with an admirable display in a strong Group Two heat, to boost his claims for the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot.
The Richard Fahey-trained colt went straight to the front from the stalls under jockey Paul Hanagan and travelled well throughout – but he was strongly challenged by Invincible Army at the business end.
The pair were virtually inseparable at the line, but after a tense wait, Sands Of Mali (100-30) got the verdict by a nose. Emblazoned was two and a quarter lengths away in third.
Fahey said: “He’s a very fast horse, we’d love to get a lead with him but nothing was quick enough today. Ascot and the Commonwealth Cup was always the plan and that is the obvious race.
“It’s a mystery what happened to him in the Middle Park last year, he came back from it fine, then he just failed to stay a mile at the Breeders’ Cup.
“He looked like he was going to win comfortably today, but Paul said he pricked his ears. I’d have settled for a dead-heat, I must admit.”
He added: “It took Paul ages to pull him up, I wouldn’t mind trying him over further eventually as he doesn’t look like a sprinter.
“He’s a typical breezer in that last year he had two speeds, he’s much more relaxed this year.”
Hanagan admitted: “I didn’t know which way it had gone on the bob. He’s so tough and genuine.”
RaceBets gave Fahey’s charge a 10-1 from 16-1 quote for the Commonwealth Cup on June 22.