Aircraft Carrier, bought out of Aidan O'Brien's stable after winning a seven-furlong maiden in October, put up a career-best performance when setting a new course record over the extended two miles of the £19,000 Betway Conditions Race on Tapeta at Wolverhampton on Monday, January 14.
The four-year-old Declaration Of War colt, trained by John Ryan at Newmarket for owner John Stocker, stepped up to this distance for the first time following two wide-margin handicap victories over 14 furlongs on the same surface at Wolverhampton and on Polytrack at Chelmsford City, both in December.
Last night's race was a Fast-Track Qualifier for the £150,000 Betway All-Weather Marathon Championship and Aircraft Carrier has now gained a free and guaranteed place in the two-mile showpiece on Polytrack at Lingfield Park on £1-million Finals Day, Good Friday, April 19.
Martin Harley settled Aircraft Carrier, backed from a morning price of 7/2 into 7/4 joint favourite with Godolphin's Festival Of Ages (Charlie Appleby/Adam Kirby), in fifth of the six runners as a strong pace was set up front by first Arch My Boy (Martin Smith/Hector Crouch, 25/1) and then the always-prominent All-Weather Championships veteran Watersmeet (Mark Johnston/Joe Fanning, 3/1) who took up the running with six furlongs remaining.
Alfredo (Seamus Durack/Luke Morris, 16/1) was rushed up from last to the leaders at half-way but was on the outside and never got to the front, while Festival Of Ages, who raced on the inner, was switched out wide entering the straight to challenge and briefly led.
Aircraft Carrier, who had made steady progress to go third, kept on the inner when straightening up and soon went to the front and ran on well to triumph by three quarters of a length from Festival Of Ages, with Watersmeet another five lengths back in third.
Watersmeet had set a new Wolverhampton course record over two miles and 110 yards of 2m 31.92s when beating French challenger Funny Kid in the 2018 running of Betway Conditions Race 12 months ago before finishing a close third behind the same horse in the Betway All-Weather Marathon Championship. Aircraft Carrier's new course record time tonight came to 3m 31.18s.
Harley commented afterwards: "There were no hiding places out there - we went a proper gallop.
"I ended up behind Adam [Kirby] with a lap to go and I was quite happy to follow him into the straight.
"I have been getting there too soon on Aircraft Carrier really, but they were messy races with a steady-run pace.
"I knew the step up to two miles today would be a big help. That was proper good performance.
"The good stayers - like Sheikhzayedroad and them horses - are workmanlike. It is not about today or tomorrow, but much further down the road.
"I can see this horse making into a good one down the road."
Ryan has bought other useful horses out of champion Irish trainer O'Brien's yard, such as subsequent Listed winner Sandro Botticelli and Battle Of Marathon, but feels this one could be the best.