Lanciato has handled himself well in top company since winning last year’s Group 3 Newcastle Newmarket, and trainer Mark Newnham is confident the gelding can defend his title. MATT JONES’S TIPS

Lanciato has handled himself well in top company during the past 12 months and it started in last year’s Group 3 Newcastle Newmarket (1400m).

The gelding will defend his title in the race on Friday at Newcastle for trainer Mark Newnham and he is coming off an encouraging first-up fifth in the Group 3 Southern Cross Stakes (1200m) at Randwick behind Eckstein.

Lanciato was closing in well at the end of the race and Newnham is confident he can improve off that run. “He’s in really good shape and his second-up form is excellent,” Newnham said. “He’s won three out of four second-up and 1400m is his pet distance.

MATT JONES’S TOP PICKS

NEWCASTLE

BEST BET

INVINCIBLE GANGSTA (Race 5, No.1)

Can’t run a bad race at the moment and the drop back in trip shouldn’t hurt his chances of a third win over the trip.

NEXT BEST

SAVATIANO (Race 7, No.4)

An open race but she’s flying and loves racing over 1400m. The track and gate suit, and Blake Shinn is riding so well.

QUADDIE

Race 5: 1, 7

Race 6: 1, 3, 8

Race 7: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6

Race 8: 1, 8, 11

TRAINER TO WATCH

GERALD RYAN brings two runners up the highway, Royal Captain and Fortress Command, and he can win both races.

SCROLL DOWN FOR MATT’S EXTENDED PREVIEW & TIPS

SAPPHIRE COAST

BEST BET

MOSS THE BOSS (Race 8, No.5)

They have dropped him back in class after he ran respectably against a better field last start and he makes his own luck in races.

JOCKEY TO WATCH

KAYLA NISBET could have a good day out with a stack of winning chances, including Monegal, Caccini and Imitation Game.

“He’s gone up 4kg since winning the race last year, which was a bit stiff considering he hasn’t won since the Newmarket. So, effectively, he goes up 4kg for that win.”

The six-year-old will again be ridden by Rachel King and the pair have struck up a really good partnership since she first rode him in January last year.

She will do what she did on him last year from a wide gate — get back and allow him to relax before unleashing him down the outside part of the track to make his run.

“He’s a get-back horse and you don’t have any choice with what barrier you get,” Newnham said. “He’ll deal with it.

“He’ll go back and hopefully Rachel can get a good cart into the race to give him his chance. He’ll get good ground, which he wants, and I’d be disappointed if he wasn’t right in the finish. I’d say he’s as good as this time last year but he’ll need to be better to win it again.”

Lanciato will have a stack of good chances to beat, such as Siege Of Quebec, Invincible Gem, Savatiano and Paret, in what shapes as a very open race.

In the other highlight on the card, Newnham will saddle-up Mesmer in the sixth race for two-year-olds over 1400m. He’s a Sepoy juvenile having start three and looks to have a lot of talent.

Mesmer was sent to the races in October, which says he does most things right and was a natural from an early age. He was given a spell after that debut run and returned at Canterbury a fortnight ago to run fourth over 1200m. Newnham is expecting plenty of improvement off that run and Tommy Berry guides him from the perfect barrier five.

“I’d say he’ll run really well,” Newnham said. “He’ll appreciate the 1400m and a big flat track like Newcastle will suit him. He ran really well at Canterbury last start when making good ground from the back of the field, so the step up in trip is ideal.”

Newnham wants him to get away quicker this time so he won’t have to do as much chasing in the straight. “Hopefully he can jump better and get on pace because that’s where he’ll be most effective,” he said.

MATT JONES’S INSIDE MAIL

NEWCASTLE

RACE 1 (1.50pm)

Royal Captain raced nicely first-up. Showed all the signs that he’d improve over more ground second-up and he’s familiar with the track. Dunbrody Power ran behind Mizzy last start, which is probably out-of-season Saturday form, so she matches up well in this grade. Mustafa showed in his lead-up trial that he’d done well in his let-up. It looked good enough form to win this with Tommy Berry aboard.

BET: MUSTAFA to win.

RACE 2 (2.25pm)

Oxford Bella hasn’t quite run up to the expectations of punters but will benefit off a first-up run and will naturally be fitter for this. Chauvinist and Watching are also second-up and will improve, which they will both have to do to win. These three shape up similarly and it will all depend on which takes most out their fresh run. Double Oboe is the only first starter in the race and he’s had just the one trial, when he closed off well over 800m in fairly good time. He could be worth the risk at odds.

BET: DOUBLE OBOE each-way.

RACE 3 (3.05pm)

Perhaps we can put Diamond Star Halo’s flop first-up down to the wet track, shorter trip and the fact she gets better with racing, so expect improvement. Not many horses win races by nearly eight lengths and Shaman doesn’t take on a much harder race this time. But his big last-start win came on a bog track, which he won’t get here. My King’s Counsel will be on the speed and is rock-hard fit. Blake Shinn will ride him again, which is a big help.

BET: Trifecta 3, 5, 6.

RACE 4 (3.40pm)

Elgin took plenty out of his second-up run and the extra step up in trip should help further. He can be up in a handy spot and take bad luck out of the equation in a biggish field. Estroverto drops back in trip and should sit off the speed. He’s improving with racing and should beat most of these home. King Of The Realm returned in good fashion at Hawkesbury over 1400m and he’s bred to get up in distance, so he comes into this race now.

BET: ELGIN to win.

RACE 5 (4.20pm)

Invincible Gangsta should win as long as he gets even luck from a wide gate. Tommy Berry has formed a great partnership with him. He’s the clear top pick. Nick On The Run is the main danger. He goes well fresh and finished 3½ lengths off Bon Amis to end his last preparation. Dream Charge is very fit, racing well and should handle the slight step up in grade. Vincero looks the best of the rest.

BET: Exacta 1, 7.

Winx wins at Chipping

RACE 6 (4.55pm)

Fortress Command won impressively on debut. He beat home Promotions with ease and I can’t see things changing in this race despite a 2kg weight disadvantage. Bullet Fly ran in a fairly good juvenile event at Warwick Farm last month. One of the horses who beat him went on to run second in a Group 2 race. Mesmer will love the bigger track and won’t get as far back as he did last start at Canterbury, where he made up ground in the straight.

BET: FORTRESS COMMAND to win.

RACE 7 (5.35pm)

Siege Of Quebec flies fresh and has an imposing record over 1400m. Has the ability to sit off the speed and let down very well. Lanciato is going just as well as when he won the race last year but will need to improve a touch because he has to carry 4kg more. Racing well and 1400m is his go second-up. Savatiano will be stalking them and she goes well second-up. Expect a big run. Invictus Prince might be the value runner in a very open race.

BET: SAVATIANO to win.

RACE 8 (6.15pm)

Alternative Facts ran behind two very good horses at her past two. Trialled nicely since so she’s ready for a big run. Miss Redoble should improve second-up after getting too far back last start, when she made up ground in the straight. Easier assignment for Malea Magic after she almost qualified for the Country Championships Final last start. Dame Kiri is on the way up and has been kept fresh for this.

BET: Quinella 8, 11.

SAPPHIRE COAST

Canberra trainer Luke Pepper has the right team to tackle the Sapphire Coast track on Friday and Appoint Percy is ready to take out the feature race, the Merimbula Cup (1600m).

On-speed horses generally have an edge on those coming from the rear of the field at the South Coast Track and Appoint Percy should get all the breaks.

He’s coming off a third placing last start at Canberra but is a better horse at the Sapphire Coast and will be ridden by Courtney Gravener.

“He’s going super and we’re back to the scene of the crime after he won the Bega Cup at the track,” Pepper said. “He had a few excuses last start when things didn’t really go to plan along with the weight he had to carry. He gets in well at the weights again now with Courtney’s claim.”

The small field also helps Appoint Percy’s racing style, so he will get every chance.

“He’s comfortable anywhere in the race,” Pepper said. “We’ve drawn one so we’ll let it pan out, but it’s a small field and I can see him being in the first ­couple. If something wants to go mad in front we’re happy to take a sit, which is what happened in the Bega Cup.”

Iltextya is first-up for Pepper and she returned to form with a close fifth last September after going off the boil a little. She will be making her own luck in a Benchmark 58 Handicap (1000m).

“She’s a mare with a lot of speed and she’ll be parked somewhere on top of the speed, which is always a bonus at the Sapphire Coast,” ­Pepper said. “She needed a break and she’s come back bigger and stronger after the break, so we’re looking forward to seeing her race.”

Pepper has been keen to get El Nieto back to the Sapphire Coast and has him in a Class 1 Handicap (1000m), while Keitaro may be coming off a 12th placing at Wagga but a gear change will help him in the sixth race.

“He was disappointing last start after getting things to go his way but the blinkers now will make a big difference,” Pepper said. “He will be ridden quite positively from the gate this time and I’m hoping to see a better horse this start.”

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