The big race meetings are coming thick and fast, and following last week’s excellent action at the Chester May fixture we move on this week to the Knavesmire at York for three tremendous days that may impact on the Epsom classics and on Royal Ascot.
Unlike Chester, where horses have to be very agile moving around the sharp turns and often need luck-in-running to score, York is a big, galloping track with a home straight half a mile long. It suits all types of horses, but is particularly good for long striding, rangy horses. The Dante meeting, so called because the feature race of the week is the Group 2 Betfred Dante Stakes, a major trial for the Derby, always attracts smart performers for the pattern races, while the handicaps are invariably fiercely contested and offer good value to punters.
Highgarden Can Hit The Heights in Musidora
The feature event on Wednesday, the opening day of the 2018 season at York, is the Group 3 Tattersalls Musidora Stakes (4.05) run over the extended mile-and-a-quarter and open to three-year-old fillies only. It often produces an Oaks candidate, the most recent to go on and win at Epsom following the Musidora was Michael Bell’s high-class Sariska in 2009, but other very smart sorts such as The Fugue and So Mi Dar, both trained by John Gosden, have won more recently. Indeed, Gosden has won the race a remarkable five times in the last seven years.
The key piece of form for Wednesday’s renewal may well be the 10 furlong Sandown novice stakes on April 27 won by Sir Michael Stoute’s promising Crystal Hope. She beat William Haggas’ Give And Take by a comfortable three lengths, with the Gosden-trained 10/11 favourite Highgarden a further length-and-a-half away in third (see video below).
Crystal Hope, a close relation to today's Gordon Richards winner Crystal Ocean, breaks her duck in fine style @Sandownpark
— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) April 27, 2018
The winner doesn’t run at York, but the second and third are set to meet again, and given his record in the race allied to the fact that Highgarden ran far too free under Frankie Dettori on her seasonal return, there appears a good chance that Gosden’s filly can reverse the form on the anticipated sounder surface. Give And Take is respected, as too are Ralph Beckett’s recent Newmarket maiden winner Ceilidh’s Dream and David Simcock’s unexposed Frankel filly Ejtyah, but HIGHGARDEN (5/2 with William Hill) can continue her trainer’s great record in this race and book herself a place at Epsom in the Investec Oaks on June 1.
Earlier in the day there is a fiendishly difficult six furlong handicap for which 19 runners are declared. It would not surprise to see Marjorie Fife’s CLASSIC SENIORITY (16/1 each-way with Bet365) run a big race from his centre draw having shaped well recently on his seasonal return when third in a decent event at Ripon. He won last season’s Scottish Stewards’ Cup at Hamilton (see video below) and looks worth an each-way interest at double-figure odds with four places up for grabs.
— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) July 21, 2017
Fingers Crossed For Dante Hope Baton
Thursday’s Group 3 Betfred Dante Stakes (3.30) is probably the best Derby trial of them all. Since 1994 when Erhaab won for Major Dick Hern before going on to land the Derby, a further five winners have gone on to Epsom glory; Benny The Dip (1997), North Light (2004), Motivator (2005), Authorized (2007), and Golden Horn (2015). Other Dante winners have included high-class performers such as Sakhee, Moon Ballad, Cape Blanco, Carlton House, Libertarian, and The Grey Gatsby.
John Gosden has won it twice in the last three years and looks set to saddle Roaring Lion, fifth in the Qipco 2000 Guineas a couple of weeks ago (see video below) and a general 15/8 ante-post market leader.
Having stayed on over the mile at HQ, the extra two-and-a-half furlongs at York should prove ideal for Roaring Lion, but he had a hard race that day runnnig along on the stands rail and there is always the possibility that another potential hard battle here might come a week or two too soon.
His stable companion Crossed Baton improved on a Kempton mile novice stakes success in late-March to win the listed Investec Blue Riband Trial at Epsom three weeks ago, battling on bravely to beat My Lord And Master by a head, with Dee Ex Bee third, and James Cook fourth (see video below).
Always dangerous to let Frankie Dettori control the fractions around Epsom. Crossed Baton holds on to score. #RUKMomentOfTheDay
— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) April 25, 2018
The runner-up finished a good second to Rostropovich in the listed Dee Stakes at Chester last week, while the third was an even better runner-up to Young Rascal in the Group 3 Chester Vase at the same meeting so the Blue Riband Trial form looks solid.
While it still leaves him with 13lb to find with Roaring Lion, there is a feeling that CROSSED BATON might be the more progressive this term and he is taken to spring a minor surprise at odds of 9/2 with Coral.
Mildenberger, trained by Mark Johnston, who won the Dante Stakes 12 months ago with the talented Permian, is very much respected after his brave effort in the listed Feilden Stakes at Newmarket earlier this month, while Hugo Palmer’s talented White Mocha, runner-up in the Group 3 Craven Stakes, Tim Easterby’s unbeaten Wells Fahr Go, and Aidan O’Brien’s James Cook, all have a squeak if showing up.
Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin team have failed to win this since Moon Ballad in 2002, but their five-day entry Nordic Lights is a promising colt who showed a good attitude when maintaining his unbeaten record in a 10 furlong novice stakes at Newmarket’s Craven meeting last month and won’t be far away if they choose to run.
If Aidan O’Brien’s SIOUX NATION takes his chance later on Thursday in the listed British Stallion Studs EBF Westow Stakes (4.45) he is not be missed. Sure to be much fitter for his seasonal reappearance, the word from Ballydoyle is that this Scat Daddy colt could well be their best sprinter having won the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot last year, and the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh (see video below).
It may prove wise to take the 33/1 each-way with Bet365 offered about Sioux Nation winning the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot next month, ahead of his run at York, or his alternative engagements for the rest of this month, while he is also entered in the six furlong Commonwealth Cup at the same royal meeting for which he is 10/1 with 888sport.
THURSDAY ADVICE: Crossed Baton (9/2 with Coral); Sioux Nation (SP) and 33/1 each-way (with Bet365) for King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 19 and 10/1 each-way with 888sport for the Commonwealth Cup on June 22.
Maestro Stradivarius to Call Yorkshire Cup Tune
Friday’s main event at York is the Group 2 MansionBet Yorkshire Cup (3.30), a race that has been won three times in the last four years by Sir Michael Stoute, most recently with The Queen’s talented Dartmouth 12 months ago.
Stoute does not have a runner in this week’s renewal which looks to be very much at the mercy of John Gosden’s smart colt Stradivarius (2/1 with Ladbrokes) who was hugely progressive in the staying sphere last season. The son of the great Sea The Stars started last term winning a Beverley handicap off a mark of just 78 before beating Count Octave (who could reoppose on Friday) by a neck in the Group 2 Queen’s Vase over two miles at Royal Ascot.
It was his length-and-three-quarter defeat of Ascot Gold Cup winner Big Orange in the Group 1 Goodwood Cup (see video below) that marked Gosden’s charge down as a high-class stayer, an impression he reinforced by ending the term failing by just half a length to beat Capri in the Group 1 St Leger at Doncaster, and by losing out by just a length to the high-class Order Of St George in the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot in October.
The Yorkshire Cup looks bound for STRADIVARIUS who might have most to fear from the race fit trio of Desert Skyline, Montaly and old foe Count Octave.
FRIDAY ADVICE: Stradivarius (2/1 with Ladbrokes)
Written by Paul Alster
Paul Alster has been part of the British and international racing media for more than three decades working as a race commentator, TV/radio presenter, journalist, betting correspondent, SP returner, and form analyst. He’s always sought out overpriced runners in handicap races, a quest that excites him as much now as it did at the start of his career.