Bangkok lowered the track record with an impressive display in the feature £45,000 Listed Betway Winter Derby Trial (2.55pm, seven runners) at Lingfield Park in one of two Fast-Track Qualifiers on the card.
Victory in the 10-furlong Polytrack contest, a key trial for the £100,000 G3 Betway Winter Derby over the course and distance on February 22, provides Bangkok with a guaranteed start in the £200,000 Betway Easter Classic at Lingfield Park on Finals Day, Good Friday, April 10.
Bangkok was the class act of the field after a good campaign on turf in 2019. He landed the G3 Sandown Classic Trial impressively in April before finishing second in both the G2 King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot and the G3 Strensall Stakes at York's Ebor Festival.
Trained by Andrew Balding for King Power Racing, the four-year-old had race fitness on his side after returning from a break to finish second in the Qatar Derby at Doha on December 21.
Sent off the 13/8 favourite under Rob Hornby, Bangkok raced in midfield as a good pace was set by outsider Extrodinair (Jane Chapple-Hyam/Daniel Muscutt). Last year's Betway Winter Derby runner-up Court House (John Gosden/Rab Havlin) moved through to lead rounding the home turn, but Bangkok was poised in his slipstream.
Bangkok quickened to lead at the furlong marker and moved away readily to score by four and a half lengths in a time of 2m 0.54s. Court House was a clear second, with a further seven length back to Dalgarno (Jane Chapple-Hyam/Ben Curtis) in third.
Balding said: "Bangkok is a class horse. I really thought going into the Derby last year [finished 12th] that we had a great chance, as he had been working so well, and for whatever reason he did not turn up. It has been a bit of a retrieval mission since, but he is a very good horse who is growing up mentally now and will have a good season ahead of him I hope.
"It would be tempting from my point of few to play it safe and come back here for the Winter Derby and Good Friday, but if he was to get an invitation to Saudi Arabia for the big one there [Saudi Cup, February 29], I know Silvestre [de Sousa, retained jockey] is very keen on that.
"Obviously, it will be the owners decision and we will discuss it, but if he was to get an invite for Saudi, I would be tempted to give the dirt a go to be honest, as I think he would run pretty well. It is a different type of dirt according to Silvestre but the benchmark to get invited is going to be pretty high. Hopefully, he has done enough today to get one and then we can consider it. Maybe it is something we could do next year. All options are open."
Hornby said: "It all went really smoothly, which is what you hope for coming into a race like this. It is a great opportunity to ride a nice horse like Bangkok - he has shown his class there and made it look quite easy.
"There was a fair pace early, then Rab [Havlin] has kept the leader honest, and I have been able to track him through. As races go at this level, it has gone really smoothly.
"I was really happy with how he handled the track and the surface, given it is his first time here. It is always a concern coming down the hill, as that is where the race starts to develop and sometimes a horse can become unbalanced, but he handled it really well.
"I would have liked something to take me a bit further into the race, but once I have given him a squeeze, he has picked up good."
The other Fast-Track Qualifier on the card, the £45,000 Listed Betway Cleves Stakes (1.45pm, seven runners) over six furlongs, was blown wide open after Kachy, last year's All-Weather champion sprinter, was withdrawn in the parade ring on veterinary advice.
Good Effort assumed his position at the head of the market and the 13/8 favourite posted a dominant performance from the front under in-form pilot Ben Curtis.
Trained in Newmarket by Ismail Mohammed, the five-year-old came into today's contest on the back of a game front-running success in a five-furlong Fast-Track Qualifier at Newcastle on January 8.
Curtis deployed identical tactics today from an inside draw. Good Effort kicked clear off the home turn and never looked in any danger as runner-up Soldier's Minute (Keith Dalgleish/Joe Fanning) closed near the line. The winning margin was just under two lengths, with a further three quarters of a length back to Lady Dancealot (David Elsworth/Hayley Turner) in third.
Good Effort has now won two of the four Fast-Track Qualifiers for £150,000 Betway All-Weather Sprint Championship on Good Friday, with the final qualifier taking place at Chantilly, France, on March 3.
Curtis said: "I am delighted this lad won. I sat on him in Newmarket on Wednesday morning, just to give him a breeze over a couple of furlongs, and he felt unreal.
"I knew he had come out of his Newcastle run very well, and at Newcastle I set quick fractions and made all, which is tough to do up there. He stuck it out gamely without exerting himself.
"Today he was brilliant, and I did pretty much what I wanted to do. My plan was to jump out and make the running anyway, as Kachy had not run for a while and I wanted to make sure we tested his fitness. I hope for Dave Lowe, Richard [Kingscote] and Tom Dascombe that Kachy is all right after being withdrawn.
"I was more worried about the track for my lad because he is a big, broad fella and it was a question of would he be balanced enough, but he flew around there and when I asked him off the bend, he put the race to bed.
"Now we know he can come down the hill and around that bend, he should definitely be a big contender on Finals Day."