1.55 York – The Sky Bet First Race Special Handicap Stakes
A frightfully tricky opening to proceedings here and one that should be approached with a fair bit of caution.
Three-year-olds have a distinctly patchy record here though which may help us narrow down the 16-strong field. Glorious Goodwood winner Londinium looks up against it taking on the older horses for the first time on a career-high mark, for all that conditions may have turned in his favour, while fellow 3yo Speedo Boy has a bit to find off the same mark as he has been well beaten the last twice.
Likely market leader Game Starter also falls into this unfortunate category. He is the least exposed in the field with this being only his fourth run and he has done very little wrong in his career so far, hosing up at Newmarket last time. This demands a lot more up 10lb and he could well be up to the task but I think the percentage call is to look elsewhere in a race as competitive as this.
His stablemate Red Galileo has more pressing claims up just 1lb for his slightly unlucky second at Ascot a month ago. He probably would have finished a good deal closer to the winner had ne not encountered a troubled passage and showed he is in the same sort of form that saw him land a valuable Meydan handicap at the start of the year. He doesn’t have the help of David Egan’s valuable 5lb claim here though and that may just be enough to see a couple of these get the better of him.
Top weight Appeared looks to have a difficult job on his hands conceding weight all round here. He finished 3 ½ lengths behind Red Galileo in fifth last time (with Fidaawy 3 ¾ lengths further back in seventh) but was another to suffer interference in running, although how much that actually affected his finishing position is open to debate. Nevertheless, he is entitled to be in the mix for the same connections that combined to win this with Barsanti last year.
Moonmeister was just half a length back in third twelve months ago but races here off an 8lb higher mark and arrives on the back of a disappointing display at Galway last time. His shrewd trainer Tony Martin likely has stronger claims with Landsman whose Fairyhouse win last time out reads quite well. The bare form is nothing to get excited about but he stayed on well to defeat Political Policy who has since gone close in a valuable Dundalk handicap off a 19lb higher mark. That makes the extra 6lb he carries here for that win look pretty paltry. Paul Hanagan is an intriguing booking given he has never ridden for Tony Martin before and he is certainly one to make the shortlist.
However, preference is for MUKHAYYAM for the Tim Easterby yard who have already been on the scoresheet this week. The experienced five-year-old was an eye-catching winner over C&D back in July and has gone on from that win since, scoring at Ripon before finishing a close-up fifth in the Shergar Cup Challenge last time. He has gone up 11lb since the first of those wins but didn’t look as though the handicapper had completely caught up with him and having David Allan back in the saddle could well be worth a couple of extra lbs. My only slight concern is his draw in 13 but if he can get out early and dictate things from the front, he could prove difficult to peg back.
Of the remainder, Al Neksh has to be considered given William Haggas’ York record this year. His second off this mark at the Dante meeting here back in May would put him in contention but he was well beaten that day and steps into the unknown trip-wise. Last-time-out winners Amazing Red and Erik The Red will likely have their supporters with the former holding the better chance with the promise of more to come having been gelded prior to his latest start.
MUKHAYYAM – 0.5pt e/w @ 20/1 (bet365) (4 places 1/4 odds)
2.25 York – Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup Stakes (Group 2)
The stayers get their chance to shine here and Dal Harraild is likely to be popular having won the Listed Grand Cup here in May. That was over 1m6f and although he ran well at Royal Ascot last time, the 1m4f trip was probably on the sharp side for him. When he won here in May, he looked a stayer on the up and there is every chance that he will relish the step up to 2m for the first time. The rain-softened ground would have to be something of a concern as most of his form has come on a sound surface but if he handles conditions, then he is likely to be right in the mix.
Willie Mullins’ Thomas Hobson will also have his supporters having narrowly failed to complete a notable double at Royal Ascot back in June. He looks to have a bit to find on form as he steps into Group company but he should have no trouble staying the trip and he has to be considered a strong contender.
Sheikhzayedroad is another who would a chance on his best form but he has to bounce back from a couple of below-par efforts on his last two starts. He wouldn’t want the ground too soft but handles some cut and he shouldn’t be dismissed despite his recent form.
Northumberland Plate winner Higher Power would probably have preferred less rain on day one, although conditions might have come right for Montaly who won the Chester Cup in May. He ran Nearly Caught close in Listed company on his most recent start and he looks entitled to take his place in this field.
However, I think the one they all have to beat is DARTMOUTH who won the Lonsdale Cup in testing conditions at York in May. Sir Michael Stoute’s five-year-old was not beaten far in the Hardwicke when dropped back in trip last time but I think he will relish being stepped up to 2m here. He does have a 3lb penalty for his Group 2 win but he is remarkably consistent and I’m not sure we have seen the best of him yet.
DARTMOUTH – 1pt win @ 9/2 (William Hill)
3.00 York – Sky Bet City Of York Stakes (Group 3)
This looks like being a wide open renewal of the City Of York Stakes with the John Gosden-trained Daban one of the horses currently vying for favouritism. The three-year-old filly is very lightly-raced having only had the four starts to date and she has some high-class form to her name. After making a winning debut at Kempton last year, she made a successful reappearance this campaign stepped up the Group 3 Nell Gwyn at Newmarket. She was keen early-on but travelled strongly through the race before putting the race to bed, getting the better of Hugo Palmer’s Unforgetable Filly by three quarters of a length. That performance saw her sent off as second favourite for the 1,000 Guineas were she finished a very good third, two and a quarter lengths behind Aidan O’Brien’s top class Winter. She was then dropped back to seven furlongs on her latest run but failed to pick and finished a five lengths sixth behind Andre Fabre’s Le Brivido. Daban is a major player if reproducing her Classic form but she will have to prove herself on softer ground than she has raced on before.
One horse who will enjoy softer conditions is the David O’Meara-trained Suedois, who has ran consistently well in top-level races since switched to the stable at the beginning of 2016. He has mainly been campaigned over the six furlongs trip, proving himself on the Knavesmire with a good second to the Charles Hills-trained Magical Memory in the Group 2 Duke Of York. He went then went on to establish himself as a Group 1 performer, finishing a close fifth in the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot before placed efforts in the July Cup and the Haydock Sprint Cup. Also sandwiched in between those runs was a fourth place in the Prix Maurice de Gheest. Stepped up to seven furlongs for the first time since being trained by O’Meara, he ended 2016 with a third place in the Foret at Chantilly behind the impressive Limato. The six-year-old produced his best effort of this campaign last time out, back over seven furlongs, when he finished half a length third to Breton Rock in the Group 2 Lennox Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, despite not getting a clear run. Suedois is likely to run his race on Friday but may find one or two too strong for him again.
Three-year-old fillies have won the last two editions of this race and a chance is taken on TALAAYEB to continue that trend. This very-well bred filly, being a half-sister to 1,000 Guineas winner Ghanaati, readily made a winning debut and Newmarket last year and then was sent straight to the 1,000 Guineas by trainer Owen Burrows. She put up a big effort, given her lack of experience, to finish fourth in the race and only three and a half lengths behind Winter. She also did not get a clear run that day. After that, TALAAYEB was dropped into Listed company at Newbury and tried over ten furlongs. She travelled well into contention but then did not see out the extra distance. Given a break since that run in June, she can bounce back returned to seven furlongs at York and can run a big race before moving back up in grade.
TALAAYEB – 0.5pts e/w @ 12/1 (Sky Bet) (5 places)
3.35 York – The Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes (Group 1)
There is a lot of buzz around the Nunthorpe this year with the prospective clash of the emerging sprint superstars at the head of the market. But I can’t look past LADY AURELIA here with her electric performance in the King’s Stand Stakes still fresh in the memory.
She finished just 0.01s outside Miss Andretti’s course record and achieved the highest rating of any King’s Stand winner ever. I must say that I was one of those proven massively wrong by thinking she was overhyped and taking her on but in hindsight, with her valuable age and sex allowance, a starting price of 7/2 now looks huge! She will be a fair bit shorter than that here and only has 2-5lb in hand of her rivals but she looked value for that and more at Royal Ascot (with the re-opposing Profitable (2nd), Marsha (3rd), Take Cover (5th), Alpha Delphini (6th), Cotai Glory (7th), Final Venture (9th), Goldream (10th), Priceless (12th) and Washington DC (15th) left trailing in her wake) and if she turns up firing on all cylinders, I think she will take all the beating.
Her nearest market rival Battaash and Duke of Firenze are the only runners in the field not to have felt her wrath in the King’s Stand and the former is the only runner that could be marginally considered as a threat. I was sceptical of his course record win in the Coral Charge at Sandown but you couldn’t fail to be impressed with the way he went about his business in the King George Stakes last time, on ground that was likely a fair bit slower than ideal. The way he travelled and cruised clear of the field definitely caught the eye and he confirmed himself the leading light of minimum trip British sprinting. However, that mantle still doesn’t put him in the same league as Wesley Ward’s speedster and he may have to settle for chasing her home.
LADY AURELIA – 2pts win @ 13/8 (Paddy Power)
4.15 York – British Stallion Studs EBF Convivial Maiden Stakes
There aren’t many maidens in the calendar in which the winner gets nearly £45,000 but this is one such race and it has predictably attracted a good looking field.
Normally experience goes a long way in this race as only White Lake has won this race on debut since 2010. In terms of this year’s field, John Gosden’s Doswell has to be high on any shortlist having been beaten a head on his debut at Newmarket in July. Despite being relatively unfancied beforehand, he travelled really well under Robert Tart and was just run out of things on the line. He should step forward from that effort and he looks to have a big chance.
Sir Michael Stoute’s Gabr was also second on his racecourse bow when running behind Crossing The Line at Newmarket at the beginning of the month. The colt lost a few lengths at the start but travelled well throughout the race and he was staying on all the way to the line. The yard have had their fair share of juvenile winners this year and with the step up in trip likely to suit, he should be thereabouts.
William Haggas won this race twelve months ago with Rivet and he is represented this year by Nicklaus. He attracted some support on debut but was very inexperienced, racing keenly before dropping away in the closing stages. He has been given a bit of time since then and it has to be considered significant that Ryan Moore has been booked to ride him. Clearly better was expected of him on debut and with that experience under his belt, he has to be expected to go well.
Another couple with experience who deserve a mention include Porth Swtan who was narrowly beaten at Chester last time. He was probably a little unlucky but this more conventional track should suit and he can go well. Also one to note could be Paul Cole’s Capital Flight who made up some late ground to finish third behind Dee Ex Bee at Goodwood at the beginning of the month. He got shuffled back early on and if racing a bit more prominently here, he isn’t likely to be too far away.
However, there are a number of interesting newcomers to consider including Karl Burke’s Broken Force who cost 60,000 euros when he went through the ring as a 2yo. Given how well the yard’s 2yos have been going this year, you would have thought there would have been a number of candidates for this race.
Hugo Palmer is another trainer whose 2yos have been going well and he saddles Corrosive here who is another graduate from the breeze-up sales. He is by American sire Uncle Mo and is the first foal of a dam who won both of her starts in the US. If there is any more rain then the soft ground would be a concern but he fetched 150,000 guineas at the sales and these connections has Via Serendipity who finished third in last year’s race.
But the one I like the look of is COMMANDER HAN who cost a whopping 400,000 guineas at the same sale as Corrosive. The Siyouni colt did a nice breeze but he was well-recommended beforehand and is a good looking colt. His half-sister won on soft ground in France so conditions should be no problem and the experience of going to the sales and galloping should mean he is more clued up than a normal debutant. Kevin Ryan had to close his yard earlier this season but he has hit form in the last few weeks and he has had five 2yo winners in that time alone. I would not be surprised to see him attract market support and I fancy him to go well on his debut.
The final one I want to mention is Mark Johnston’s Dream Today who is a full-brother to Andre Fabre’s Al Wukair. This yard is more than capable of getting one ready first time and it will be interesting to see how he fares on his racecourse bow.
COMMANDER HAN – 0.5pt e/w @ 14/1 (SkyBet) (4 places 1/5 odds)
4.50 York – Nationwide Accident Repair Services Handicap
William Haggas looks to have a strong hand in the race as he bids for another winner on the Knavesmire. The lightly-raced Mojito arrives at York looking to make it a hat-trick of wins having hit form this year since returned back to seven furlongs. He boasts an impressive strike rate overall of four wins from six career starts, finishing third on the other two occasions at the beginning of this campaign. After finishing third in a class 4 at Doncaster over a mile on soft ground in June, he colt got off the mark form 2017 last month at Sandown. He decisively won the class 3 contest on firmer conditions by one and three quarter lengths, staying strongly up the hill. The son of Requinto followed up that performance with success back on softer ground at Newmarket three weeks ago as he made all despite having the widest draw to win by two and a quarter lengths. His style of racing suggests that the step back up to a mile should not be a problem and he seems versatile with regards to the ground conditions. He is up 7lb after his Newmarket victory but should make a bold bid in his hat-trick attempt.
Preference is for the other Haggas-trained colt in the field BATTERED who can continue his progress since being gelded last summer. He got off the mark at the third attempt of his juvenile campaign at Yarmouth before ending 2016 with a decent second at York behind Mark Johnston’s unexposed filly Comedy School. He got back to winning ways in fine style on his third run this year back on the Knavesmire. The gelding finished strongly on the soft ground to get the better of Kevin Ryan’s Lualiwa, who since went on to win his next two runs – a class 2 at Chester and then a class 3 at York. BATTERED overcame stumbling at the start that day to power away at the finish and win by two and a half lengths. After that he finished a creditable third at Sandown, where he was not suited by the quick conditions but still managed to stay on up the hill and was nearest at the finish, only beaten a length. Following a below-par run returned to York, he bounced back with success in a class 2 at Glorious Goodwood in first time blinkers. Despite racing keenly in the early stages he stayed on strongly for success with Silvestre De Sousa riding for the first time. Back to York again with De Sousa retaining the ride, BATTERED can keep on improving and enhance his trainer’s fine form at the course this year.
The main threat could come from Luca Cumani’s unexposed La Rav, who has won two of his four starts so far. After showing promise on his debut at Newmarket when finishing fifth on soft ground, he got off the mark in fine style at Salisbury next time in May. He was doing his best work towards the finish over the seven furlongs trip on firmer ground, going clear to win by four and a half lengths. Front-running tactics were then employed at Newbury upped to a mile and it was a fine ride by regular partner Jamie Spencer, as despite being keen he had too much for his rivals to win three and a quarter lengths. Last time out the colt finished a creditable third on the all-weather at Chelmsford where things did not go his way. He was keen early on again but did not get a clear run when making his challenge. La Rav is an improving horse but will need to find more again on Friday.
Others to note include the Richard Hannon-trained Medahim, who has put up some decent efforts in good handicaps this season. He was successful in a class 2 at Newmarket’s July meeting, where he picked up well to get the better of Mark Johnston’s Masham Star by a length and half. Last time out he finished third behind BATTERED at Goodwood. Although he did get hampered that day, he could still find it difficult to reverse the form. Kevin Ryan’s runners have to be respected at this meeting and Syphax is an interesting runner. He would be a major player based on his Group 3 win here in the Acomb Stakes this time last year, but has finished down the field on his latest two runs. He may struggle to bounce back though with the rain that there has been at York not in his favour.
BATTERED – 1pt e/w @ 7/1 (Paddy Power) (4 places)