'We're not here for a haircut, we're here to win some races' – Asfoora kicks off an ambitious European campaign in Haydock's Temple Stakes

Asfoora will become the latest Australian sprinter to try and strike a blow on UK soil when beginning her optimistic European campaign in the Group 2 Temple Stakes at Haydock on Saturday.

ASFOORA winning the Metcap Finance Schillaci Stakes
ASFOORA winning the Metcap Finance Schillaci Stakes Picture: Colin Bull / Sportpix

An eight-time winner on home soil – including twice in Group 2 company – Asfoora will face the likes of last year's Nunthorpe hero Live In The Dream and the 2023 Haydock Sprint champion Regional at the Merseyside venue this weekend.

The five-year-old mare was last seen finishing fourth in the Group 1 (Handicap) Kia Ora Galaxy over five and a half furlongs at Rosehill in March, and her trainer Henry Dwyer is certainly hoping she can be competitive against UK opposition. 

"I've got full respect for the Nunthorpe winner and the Haydock Sprint winner from last year, but I think she'll measure up for sure. It's not a holiday, although I do like a holiday!" said Henry Dwyer on a call organised by the Jockey Club.

"I couldn't be happier with how she looks, how she is in herself, how her work has been and how she's settled in over here. If anything, she's more settled here than she is at home. The trip has done here the world of good."

Whilst Dwyer is hoping for a bold showing in Saturday's Group 2, he was keen to stress this was the beginning of a lengthy European campaign for the talented Australian sprinter, with lofty targets already pencilled in down the line. "We've got a pretty ambitious summer planned. We're not here for a haircut, we're here to win races," he said.

"She can kick off at Haydock, go to Ascot, then there's six weeks to Glorious Goodwood if we want to do that, which we do. Then you've got a break until the Nunthorpe and if you're still standing by then you can potentially go to the Curragh for the Flying Five or to France for the l'Abbaye."

Asfoora, who is a general 4/1 chance for the Saturday sprint, will be partnered by Australian rider Mitchell Aitken, an aspect Dwyer felt was vital for the beginning of her preparation in the UK. However, the trainer was quick to confirm that he would be looking for a Northern Hemisphere-based jockey in the not-so-distant future. "We'll be looking for a Northern Hemisphere jockey to ride but I just thought Mitch was really important to have here for her first start," explained the Ballarat-based handler. "Just with the little idiosyncrasies she's got and different things over here with the barriers. It will be a good thrill for Mitch and a good experience for him, but we'll be keen to get a European jockey after that."

The daughter of Flying Artie is being housed with trainer Amy Murphy for the duration of her stay and trainer Henry Dwyer has also acquired the services of stalls guru Craig Witheford to help with his mare, who has shown tendencies to be tricky down at the start in the past.

He said: "We've engaged Craig Witheford. In Australia, the barrier attendant will jump up into the gates and hold the horse's head to keep them calm but over here they don't do that. She would need that because left to her own devices in the stalls she can get her head down, throw herself about and burrow. She can be very impatient, and it's cost her races in the past. So, Craig will go to the races with her, keep her in check behind the barriers and hop in the gates."

Haydock's clerk of the course Dan Cooper has come under some scrutiny for the choice to water the track on Tuesday and admitted that the decision now looks 'questionable' after the arrival of rain in Merseyside.

Cooper explained: "We'll more than likely be changing the ground to good very shortly and I should imagine by the morning it will be good, potentially good to soft in places. Then we have a dry Thursday and Friday by the looks of things – I'm assuming that the ground will probably stay at the slower side of good."

However, one who will not be complaining about the rain in the Haydock area will be Dwyer, who admitted his mare seems to be at her most effective with some cut in the ground. "We're pretty adaptable, she's won races on very firm tracks but her best ground in my opinion is what we call a soft 5 or soft 6. She broke a track record on a soft 6 at Sandown (Melbourne) early on in her career and that's pretty much unheard of. She really appreciates getting her toe in and I think she lets down a lot better on a track with some give in it. So, good to soft would be perfect."

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