(Published July 31, 2018) – The famous Ebor Handicap, sponsored this year for the first time by Yorkshire-based betting company Sky Bet, is the richest handicap race anywhere in Europe on the Flat. One of the highlights of the British racing calendar, it has always attracted talented staying handicappers to the expansive, galloping York racecourse, but a massive increase in prize money this year to a huge £500,000 has seen an even higher quality entry than is usually the case.
It is fair to say, given the level of the horses currently entered for the one mile six furlong staying contest, that the Ebor is now a pattern race handicap in all but name. Ultra-competitive, five of the last 20 winners have started at odds of 20/1 or bigger, while during the same period there have been two major gambles landed in the shape of Lady Cecil’s 2013 winner Tiger Cliff (5/1), and Tony Martin’s Irish raider Heartbreak City, who scored two years ago have been heavily supported down to 15/2.
Ninety-eight horses still hold entries for the Ebor Handicap but only 20 can run, and with so much money at stake this year it seems reasonable to assume that this is a confirmed target for many trainers and that those in the bottom half of the handicap – with a rating of 101 or lower – may well find themselves left out in the cold and miss the cut.
Mullins Bidding For Second Ebor Triumph
Champion Irish jumps trainer Willie Mullins won this race back in 2009 with 25/1 shot Sesenta, but this time the County Carlow handler is responsible for the two current ante-post market leaders Stratum and Chelkar. He has a number of other horses entered as well. In a normal year both horses would be likely to get a run – Stratum being No.37 in the handicap and Chelkar No.45 – but this time around there is not quite so much certainty with the feeling being that horses toward the top of the weight won’t easily be scratched and despatched to tackle other targets. The huge prize money on offer is a massive carrot tempting owners and trainers to run.
Both horses are entered to run in the Guinness Handicap at Galway on August 3, and a win there together with the penalty incurred would certainly enhance their respective chances of making the cut. Stratum (6/1 favourite with race sponsors Sky Bet) stayed on well to be third in the marathon Ascot Stakes at Royal Ascot then made no mistake last time over the shorter trip of two miles when easily landing the £100,000 JLT Cup Handicap at Newbury, for which he was raised 8lb to a new mark of 102. He’s clearly in good shape at present and this ex-John Gosden-trained gelding who runs in the colours of in-form owner Tony Bloom, goes on any ground and has a progressive profile. Assuming he gets in, he should run well but makes little appeal at current odds having been available at 20/1 for the Ebor prior to his Newbury win.
A nice performance from the well-supported Stratum who justifies favouritism in the JLT Cup under Robert Winston for trainer Willie Mullins! pic.twitter.com/uRFSsINfea
— Newbury Racecourse (@NewburyRacing) July 21, 2018
Chelkar (10/1 with SportPesa) was just a place behind his stable companion at Ascot and was then a sick horse when well beaten over hurdles at Galway yesterday, reportedly coughing post-race having also lost a shoe during the race. That’s hardly an ideal preparation and he’s unlikely to run again later in the week, so he’ll do well to bounce back in time for the much tougher York contest.
Godolphin’s Charlie Appleby has already enjoyed a great season winning the Derby with Masar as well as a stack of other good races. His Hamada (12/1 with Bet365) beat Crowned Eagle in a photo-finish at York over 1m4f at the May meeting and is set to race off 8lb worse terms in the Ebor with that rival, having bolted up at Newmarket last time out by seven lengths over the Ebor distance of 1m6f. He went up 11lb for that runaway success but that guarantees him a place in the starting line up and he is very much respected and is on a seasonal five-timer.
The #Eyecatcher for Friday was Hamada, winner of the Gordon's Handicap at Newmarket.
A trip down under for the Spring Carnival may happen after the Gelding put in a taking display on just his sixth start.
— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) July 13, 2018
The Marco Botti-trained Crowned Eagle (20/1 with Betfair) has also been in good form since May, finishing a respectable sixth behind Dash Of Spice in the Duke of Edinburgh Handicap at Royal Ascot before failing by just a neck to give 10lb to Rainbow Rebel in Haydock’s Old Newton Cup last time out.
The aforementioned Dash Of Spice (16/1 with 888sport) is trained by David Elsworth, who landed the Ebor with Saint Alebe back in 2003, and after his Royal Ascot win was all the talk for this year’s renewal. He was heavily backed into favourite for the John Smith’s Cup at York this month over the shorter 1m2f trip and never got into it, but that trip was almost certainly short of his best. He remains an interesting contender.
At No.21 in the 98-runner field at present is John Gosden’s ROYAL LINE (16/1 with Paddy Power), a horse who has very much caught my eye this season and who I suspect has been laid out for a serious crack at this race. He’s won nearly everything else in British racing worth winning, but Gosden has yet to saddle an Ebor winner, and this lightly raced four-year-old colt who runs in the original maroon and white colours of Sheikh Mohammed, is worth serious consideration. He is bred to be a star, being by Dubawi out of the mare Melikah, who finished third in the Oaks and is a half-sister to no lesser horses than the legendary pair of Galileo and Sea The Stars.
A quick-fire double for John Gosden
as Royal Line wins the Investec Corporate Banking Great Metropolitan Handicap at 5-1 pic.twitter.com/ZtA7e2wNO1
— EpsomDownsRacecourse (@EpsomRacecourse) April 25, 2018
Unraced as a juvenile, Royal Line won his first two starts last year before disappointing in a tactical three-runner race at Newbury against two more experienced horses. He ended last season finishing a creditable seventh of 23 having been made favourite for the November Handicap over 1m4f on soft ground. A beaten favourite and only third of four on the opening day of this season at Doncaster on soft ground in a conditions race, he looked a completely different horse when easily winning the Great Metropolitan Handicap at Epsom in April (see above) on good ground, where he looked a class act. The 10b rise to 105 means he will get a run if connections choose to tackle the Ebor and he is still open to plenty of improvement against mainly fully exposed rivals.
Best Of The Rest
There are so many other horses worthy of a mention, but here are just a few more to consider while sizing up the ante-post market for this great race.
Iain Jardine’s Nakeeta (20/1 with Boylesports) stayed on bravely to win last year’s Ebor, getting up close home to beat the useful Flymetothestars, and he went on to run a blinder when fifth in the Melbourne Cup last November. He looked to be coming back to form last time when sixth to Stratum at Newbury and off a mark just 4lb higher than last year another bold bid is a distinct possibility.
Saeed Bin Suroor’s Game Starter (16/1 with 10Bet) is a similar type to Royal Line, being beautifully bred and possibly even less exposed having had just four career starts. He is an exciting prospect whose only defeat came when second on debut in a Redcar maiden in autumn 2016. Last year he won all three outings, culminating with a very easy defeat of the decent Amazing Red over 1m4f in a handicap at Doncaster’s St Leger fixture last September after which he was raised 8lb to a mark of 108.
He hasn’t been since though, which is a worry, and his three wins have all come in races with seven runners or less, so the hurly-burly of a tough 20-runner contest may be alien to him, especially after an 11-month absence. Fitness is also an issue, but Game Starter is reportedly held in high regard by his fine trainer and he could easily be a Group race horse for the future or a Melbourne Cup candidate down the line.
ParisLongchamp Group 3 winner and Lingfield All-Weather Marathon Championship hero Funny Kid (20/1 with Coral) is a fascinating contender for the French and follows a similar path to the 2015 winner Litigant. He is worth a look and would be dangerous if there is any give in the ground. Christophe Ferland’s five-year-old looks decent value.
— Equidia (@equidia) April 29, 2018
Karen McLintock’s Dubawi Fifty (25/1 with Totesport), fourth in the Chester Cup and runner-up in the Ascot Stakes is a thorough stayer who has a touch of class as well, and Andrew Balding’s Count Octave (25/1 with Bet365), not beaten far in last season’s St Leger, and who has run respectably all starts this term over a variety of distances, is another with a squeak in what promises to be a fabulous race.
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.