SPARTA MASTER, track record holder for the 575m trip, started his Coral Coronation Cup campaign in the best possible style as Sharon Thompson’s star set the standard in the latest major six-bend showpiece at the London Road track.

Having set new figures for the distance in the heats of the Coral Essex Vase, Sparta Master again showed his liking for the Essex venue as he broke smartly and always bossed heat five of the Category Two event on Friday.

Soon in charge, the August 2017 son of Aero Majestic and Sparta Fantasy eventually crossed the line four and a quarter lengths clear of the staying-on Antigua Rum (Mark Wallis) in 34.88sec (normal), comfortably the quickest of the six heats.

“I’m delighted with him,” said winning trainer Thompson. “He always looked in a great position into the bend and, when he comes away like that, his all-round pace is there for all to see. We know he’s strong – he’s won over 714m at Crayford.

“He came out bouncing the next day and ripping up his pillow – that’s always a good sign! We’ve got trap five in the semi-finals which isn’t ideal but we’ll take it and hope he gets a decent enough run.

“Everyone knows missing the Essex Vase final was tough to take, but we’ve got a chance now in the Coronation Cup, after which it’ll be Crayford and the Ladbrokes Golden Jacket. He runs Crayford and Romford particularly well, so these events were always obvious targets.”

Essex Vase winner Droopys Aoife came through a clash with Aayamza Express (Mark Wallis), the Champion Stakes winner, in heat three as these two leading contenders for outright honours enjoyed a good battle for the spoils.

It was Ernie Gaskin’s bitch who made virtually all to win by two lengths in 35.31sec as she kicked off another Romford campaign in the best possible style – and the two-year-old was joined in the semi-finals by litter brother Roman Empire.

The latter, also trained by Gaskin, finished third in heat six to 20-1 scorer Swift Tarquin as John Mullins’ dog proved a gutsy sort in front to repel the challenge of Sheldan (Kevin Boon) and Roman Empire to clock 35.38sec.

Desperado Dan, the defending champion, edged out Tiffield Maximus (Mark Wallis) in a cracking heat two clash as Patrick Janssens’ dog won by a short-head in 35.48sec to continue his fine run of form having finished third in Hove’s Olympic.

The other heats were won by Kevin Hutton’s last-gasp winner Kentish Prince (35.54sec), who recovered well after first-bend crowding, and All England Cup runner-up and Essex Vase semi-finalist Roxholme Jim (Hayley Keightley) who made all in 35.51sec. Derek Knight’s 2018 Coronation Cup hero Shotgun Bullet finished a gallant second here.

Mark Arkell, Romford racing manager, said: “There was plenty of class on show on Friday – and favourite backers probably had the best of it. The form stood up well.

“All the main contenders qualified, with the only upset being Swift Tarquin’s in the last heat. He won at a decent price, but has always been capable at the highest level so it couldn’t be described as a complete shock.

“The semi-final draws have thrown up a few interesting clashes with two past winners of the competition against each other in Desperado Dan and Shotgun Bullet, for instance, in the first semi.

“Of course we still have the winners of the Essex Vase (Droopys Aoife) and Champion Stakes (Aayamza Express) in the competition, plus the track record holder (Sparta Master) – so there are plenty in with chances of claiming the first big prize of there year

“It should be a great night this Friday and hopefully an even better final night the following week.”

Trap draw and form for Friday’s semi-finals: