All-Weather stalwart Watersmeet features among an excellent field of nine chasing Fast-Track Qualifier success in the £25,000 Betway Stayers Conditions Race (12.55pm) at Newcastle this Saturday, December 15.
The winner of the extended two-mile Tapeta contest is guaranteed a free start in the £150,000 Betway All-Weather Marathon Championships over the same distance on Polytrack at Lingfield Park on £1-million All-Weather Championships Finals Day, Good Friday, April 19.
Watersmeet (Mark Johnston/Joe Fanning) has an excellent record on the All-Weather, with 12 wins from 25 starts, and last time out defeated Higher Power (James Fanshawe/George Wood) by a length in the two-mile 32Red Handicap on Polytrack at Kempton Park on November 21.
Seven-year-old Watersmeet has yet to win in three attempts on Tapeta at Newcastle, finishing fourth in the 2018 Northumberland Plate in June and third in this race last year.
Watersmeet has gone close in the two latest editions of the Betway All-Weather Marathon Championships on Good Friday, finishing second behind Winning Story in 2017 and third this year, and this will be his 50th career outing.
Higher Power is 3lb better off at the weights with Watersmeet from their race at Kempton Park. The six-year-old gained the biggest victory of his career over course and distance in the 2017 Northumberland Plate, when he was the game half-length winner.
Imposing four-year-old Festival Of Ages (Charlie Appleby/James Doyle), representing Godolphin, is the least experienced of the nine contenders with just three starts.
After capturing a 12-furlong maiden on his second appearance at Newmarket in July, 2017 following a promising second on debut the previous month, Festival Ages did not race again until posting a smooth length and three-quarter success in a 10-furlong novice contest on Polytrack at Kempton Park on November 29.
The son of Medaglia d'Oro is ridden by James Doyle for the first time on Saturday.
Newmarket-based Appleby said today: "We were delighted with the victory of Festival Of Ages at Kempton Park after a long lay-off and feel that the step up in distance is going to suit him.
"If he sees out the two miles, it will hopefully open up a few doors in the future.
"I was hoping to take him out to Dubai, but he is not quite sharp enough for a mile and a quarter, which is the longest they race over on the dirt out at Meydan, so we decided to explore the All-Weather options.
"He could possibly be a horse for Finals Day, although he might not be suited to a sharp course like Lingfield Park because he is a big unit of a horse.
"If he keeps on developing, we might still take him out to Dubai for the staying races on the turf."
Alfredo (Seamus Durack/Tom Queally) comes into the race on the back of a career-best effort, after taking a two-mile handicap by seven lengths under top-weight at Kempton Park on November 19, his fifth success from as many starts on the All-Weather.
The six-year-old was off the track for 627 days between December, 2016, and September this year due to injury.
Trainer Seamus Durack reported: "Alfredo has had a bit of an issue with a kissing spine, and we have been managing that, but before he ran at Kempton we medicated it and there was improvement from his run at Newmarket [finished 10th] because of that.
"We are going to find out about him on Saturday. He obviously won impressively in a handicap the last day and, out of all the All-Weather tracks, I think Newcastle with the long straight will suit him the most - he only gets going after a mile and six furlongs!
"It is possible we haven't seen the best of him yet. He was on an upward curve as a four-year-old before he went off the radar with a leg injury. He is a really nice stayer, but we are getting into the territory now where it is hard to predict how much further he can progress."
Other contenders include Cosmelli (Gay Kelleway/Josephine Gordon), winner of the Northumberland Vase (the consolation race for the Northumberland Plate) over course and distance in June, and Stargazer (Phil Kirby/Robert Winston), who has finished a close second in all his three starts at Newcastle.
November Handicap third Reshoun (Ian Williams/Robert Havlin), Golden Wolf (Dougie Costello), who is having his first start for Scottish handler Iain Jardine, and Castlelyons (Robert Stephens/Callum Shepherd), who steps up in trip having taken third in the valuable 32Red London Middle Distance Series Final Handicap at Kempton Park last month, complete the nine runners.