1:45 Stanjames.com Handicap
The North won all three runnings between 2004-2006 but it has been the top southern yards all the way since with three wins for Saeed Bun Suroor with John Gosden, Sir Michael Stoute, Roger Varian and Sir Henry Cecil claiming the last seven runnings of this extended 1m2f handicap for older horses rated 0-100 between them with six of those last seven southern-trained successes being four-year-olds. If you like trends then you might be disappointed as there are no four-year-olds representing the top southern yards this season but Gosden and Stoute are represented with Lahaag and Rye House who have both won at York before and are both making their seasonal debut as five-year-olds.LAHAAG was only beaten a neck off a handicap mark of 95 in this race last season having looked the most likely winner throughout until headed late on having flopped as favourite for the Lincoln on his previous start. Winning at York later in the season took his course profile to a win and two close-up seconds in just three starts and he is only 5lb higher than 12 months ago so he can certainly win off this mark given the horse that beat him went on win to win the Ebor and they pulled five lengths clear of the third and he appeals as the type that might have grown up with another winter behind him. He has run well and poorly on soft ground. Rye House readily won at this meeting last year on soft ground which was his only run of the season so we know he likes the course, the ground and goes well fresh. He is off a 10lb higher mark though but, being a big horse who few miles on the clock, I know it’s a cliché but Sir Michael Stoute does so well with late improving middle-distance horses so his chance is an obvious one.
Richard Fahey, David O’Meara and Tim Easterby lead the home defence with a brace of contenders apiece and I am intrigued of the booking of Richard Hughes for O’Meara’s course-and-distance winner Grandioro with Danny Tudhope, who has won twice on that four-year-old, riding Awake My Soul for the same yard who has not come close to winning in his last three starts and looks the second string. Grandioro is also the less exposed of the pair. He does take a keen hold though and likes to be held up so perhaps they felt Hughes was the man for that reason, especially as he might be fresh on his seasonal debut. Both Easterby runners have each-way chances. Maven arrives here off the back of a small handicap win at Ripon under Rachel Richardson who keeps the ride and Silvery Moon ran creditably when seventh in the Lincoln consolation race on his only run this season. Hi There looks the pick of the Fahey pair but neither strike me as likely to have 7lb in hand. The intriguing one of the northern runners is CLEVER COOKIE who won both his bumpers and three of his six hurdle races (though he disappointed when seventh in this spring’s Scottish Champion Hurdle behind Cockney Sparrow as a 7/1 shot) and has since won his sole Flat start (if you don’t include bumpers) when winning a 1m4f maiden on soft ground. Given his trainer says he has plenty of speed, dropping him back in trip on soft ground shouldn’t be a problem and given he was rated 148 over timber, a Flat rating of 88 might be generous if you take a rule of thumb that some punters like to use that there should be around 50lb difference if they translate the same ability from one code to another. If so, he could be around 10lb nicely treated here. David Barron runs Tres Coronas under a 6lb penalty for his win at Chester last week when he was well on top at the end but, having won at the same May Meeting last year, there is a strong suspicion that he was trained to the minute for that race and this comes soon enough for two runs on soft ground over a middle-distance trip. Tahira has her first start for John Quinn since winning three of her seven starts in Germany last season as a 3yo. Unraced at two, there should therefore be more to come from her but the owner has been kind enough to let me know that she was bought to eventually go hurdling and that the Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes at Royal Ascot is the main aim with her and she works better on better ground at home though she is plenty fit enough and her German form has worked out well.
CONCLUSION- I’ll take Lahaag (each-way given his solid York profile) as best of the south and Clever Cookie as best of the north.
2:15 Infinity Tyres Handicap
Hats off to anyone who can suss out sprint handicaps at York as I think it is the hardest course in the country to find winners of such races as they are always hugely competitive, the draw can play a big factor and as they usually stick them on first on the card (though second today) so we are more often than not guessing regards any possible draw bias and, often, if you are not up with the pace, it’s Goodnight Vienna. It’s 8/1 the field as a I write with Lancelot Du Lac and Fast Shot heading the market. Lancelot Du Lac has had five starts on the All-Weather during the winter/spring where he has improved 5lb on official ratings but his chance is best judged on his course-and-distance success here in September having also won the 7f 3yo handicap meeting at last year’s Dante Meeting. He did well to win that sprint as he came from off the pace on Good ground as front runners tend to hold on better at York in sprints and especially on decent ground. Fast Shot is chasing a hat-trick for Tim Easterby and Rachel Richardson after two narrow wins but being 8lb higher than for the first of those successes in a 20-runner York handicap might be enough to stop him. BLAINE might have a class edge and he would be my narrow preference, especially with Kevin Ryan acquiring the services of Richard Hughes for the first time. Winner of the Group 2 Gimcrack here in 2012, like many 3yo sprinters he struggled the following season but he returned this season with a creditable fifth in a Beverley handicap beaten just under two lengths under Amy Ryan on his first run since being gelded and from an unfavourable high draw doing his best work late on and he is now 12lb lower than when he ended his two-year-old season. Interesting.
Jamaican Bolt ran well in defeat in all four starts this season and did so again on his return so his turn is near enough. Baccarat may well have been trained for this race by Richard Fahey being owned by Sir Robert Ogden who likes a York winner and he ran well on his return at Thirsk when second in a conditions race to Breton Rock who has since win a Listed prize. Similar comments apply to ROYAL RASCAL being a Tim Easterby-trained course-and-distance winner who had a pipe opener for the season last month behind his stablemate, Fast Shot. Twelve months ago, he was thought good enough to run in the Group 2 Duke Of York Stakes on this card and she has only run twice since. In fact, before that Group 2 run she had won three of her four starts at York so there is every reason to believe that she has been trained for this prize. Mick Easterby runs Aetna who could be a filly to watch this season after impressing more than once last season but she has to bounce back from a poor run last time behind Blaine having previously won at Newcastle but she handles soft ground very well.
CONCLUSION- the very best of luck to you but my two against the field would be BLAINE and ROYAL RASCAL on potential class grounds having won at a higher level on this course and have had a run to put them spot on.
2:45 Tattersalls Musidora Stakes
Since this trial for the Oaks was first run in 1961, six winners have gone on to land the Epsom Classic, the most recent being Sariska five years ago. This is a trial that Gosden likes having won it in 2011 and 2012 and he wanted to run the Oaks favourite, Taghrooda, if he had more time but it comes too soon after her Pretty Polly Stakes romp so reluctantly he lets her head to Epsom off the back of just two career runs. In her place he runs Eastern Belle who is a maiden after three starts, all three times being placed in 7f Newmarket maidens. This extra 3f will need to improve her plenty. Sir Michael Stoute likes the Musidora even more and has been his number one choice of Oaks trial down the years having won it on eight occasions and he lets the Aga Khan-bred Shama in the colours of The Queen take her chance who made all to win very well at Lingfield in early April on her second start. Her dam, Shamadara, was beaten a short-head in the Irish Oaks so I don’t think that we will see the best of her until she runs over 1m4f so this softer ground placing more emphasis on stamina could help her in this respect. Top rated on official figures is Lady Heidi who made it third time lucky last season when winning a Listed race at Pontefract at 20/1 over a mile on soft ground so conditions will suit. Whether later-developing fillies will improve past her is the main question and that looks likely. On a similar theme, Latenightrequest and Lily Rules look too exposed after plenty of runs so far, none of which suggest they can win an up-to-scratch pattern race.
Three unbeaten fillies take their chance headed by the Charlie Hills-trained CAMBRIDGE who is a top priced 10/1 for the Oaks after winning a Nottingham maiden at 16/1 by less than a length on her only start at two. However, I think you have to forget it was Nottingham, that she started at 16/1 and that she didn’t win by far and instead judge her on the manner of her victory and her powerful physique as she has the scope and presence to be a top-class, middle-distance filly. In fact, treat the fact that she was unfancied for her sole start as a positive as she was very much considered as being next year’s filly but was still able to stamp her class on the race. The runner-up was the re-opposing Regardez for Ralph Beckett whose third string won the Lingfield Oaks Trial on Saturday, and she then won a maiden by 4l on her only other start. A galloping course like York should suit Cambridge ideally as she looks like the type that will best when gradually allowed to find her big stride and I loved the way she stayed on after being punched along from 3f out to the final furlong.
The David Simcock-trained Madame Chiang also won her only start at two when causing a 33/1 shock in a back-end Yarmouth maiden by four lengths after being slowly into stride and soon pushed along but, boy, did the penny drop with just over a furlong to race and she scorched clear. Hard to know what to make of her though as I’m not sure it was a great maiden. In fact, a maiden called Chortle was back in fifth beaten 6l that day but Cambridge beat her 9l on her previous start and she also had the benefit of that run. William Haggas’ Queen of Ice is 2-2 following up a back-end Newmarket success last season by making all in a four-runner conditions race at Kempton. She is not in the Oaks though but that was probably a pedigree-based decision by Cheveley Park Stud who know about these things being by Selkirk out of a Polar Falcon mare (both stallions of theirs) so maybe this extended 1m2f on soft ground might be the limit of her stamina?
CONCLUSION- I loved CAMBRIDGE’S only run last season for one who has 3yo written all over her and she can take this en route to be a big player in the Oaks. 3/1 would be nice.
3:15 Duke Of York Clipper Logistics Stakes
Despite the presence of a couple of Group 1 winners, this Group 2 6f sprint doesn’t look up to its usual high standard and five of the last nine winners started at 14/1+ so don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. Last year’s race proved, not for the first time by any stretch of the imagination, to be the key guide to the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot as the 1-2 also filled the same two positions in the Group 1 race but in reverse order. With regards to Royal Ascot after the race, you may want to take note that since 1992, nine Diamond Jubilee Stakes winners ran in this Group 2 event with six finishing first or second. The class act is Maarek under his Group 1 penalty for winning the Abbaye last autumn (the runner-up won a Group 3 easily on Sunday at Longchamp) but only Society Rock last year has overcome that penalty in this race so even though he loves to get his toe in, he is up against it in that respect and he was only fifth in this race last year as the 7/2 favourite when he was penalised for a Group 2 win so he has a bigger penalty this time. He has also hit his best form in the autumn for the last two years. Astaire has been ante-post favourite for the last week but the last successful 3yo was back in 1999. Back to sprinting after finishing fifth in the Greenham which featured the 2000 Guineas 1-2, he won the Gimcrack on this course and distance on soft ground so he should love conditions. However, in then adding the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes, he also has the maximum penalty to overcome which will also make it tough for him.
Moviesta won last season’s King George Stakes at Glorious Goodwood over 5f which is all about pure speed so 6f on rain-softened ground would be my concern about him despite a good fifth on his return in the Palace House Stakes. Conditions were in his favour last week though with that being a 5f race on good-to-firm ground. He has won over 6f and twice been narrowly beaten in big fields including here but they were all run on ground on the faster side of Good. JACK DEXTER is preferred to Hawkeyethenoo of the Jim Goldie-trained pair despite a slightly disappointing return in the Cammidge Trophy when third as favourite but he was giving weight to the front pair. Beaten three lengths into sixth in a better running of this race last year, he will go close if he can reproduce that level of form and he will love the ground. His record on soft or heavy reads: 111111213. As many as half the field are course-and-distance winners and the best of those could be Tropics. He was a well beaten seventh in the Cammidge Trophy on his return and only improved slightly next time when fifth in the Abernant Stakes but he was giving weight away on both occasions unlike here and he strikes me as the type to keep progressing as the season moves forward. His 3½ lengths’ defeat of Music Master (declared but a very doubtful runner) in a Group 3 at Ascot in October on rain-softened ground was even easier than it looks on paper after which his trainer commented he would improve again next season and the runner-up easily won at Warwick on his seasonal debut.
Despite two Listed race wins in France on testing ground on his last two starts, I can’t quite bring myself to back a nine-year-old so Eton Rifles is not for me and he has 5l to find with JACK DEXTER on Doncaster form last November and is 6lb worse off. Heerat has been a bit of a talking horse despite a Group 3 win and needs to improve but Es Que Love is open to more improvement at 6f having been dropped to sprinting for his new trainer this season and he got within half a length of winning the Abernant behind Hamza, though the winner didn’t do a lot for that form in France on Sunday. The rest shouldn’t be good enough but this race has thrown up surprises so I wouldn’t totally rule out BODY AND SOUL for Tim Easterby just in case he has trained her for this big race at his favourite course and she beat Moviesta into second in the valuable 3yo 6f handicap here at the June Meeting last year that has produced so many Group horses down the years and she meets Moviesta on 5lb better terms.
CONCLUSION- JACK DEXTER has a very good form chance anyway but combine that with never being out of the first three in nine starts on soft ground or worse (six wins) then he makes plenty of each-way appeal to improve on his good run in this race last year in a weaker field. BODY AND SOUL appeals most of those at 16/1+ for each-way purposes in a race that has thrown up more than its fair share of surprises and I wouldn’t be shocked to see Tropics find his best form now he has had a couple of runs
3:50 Conundrum HR Consulting Handicap
Twenty declarations for this ultra-competitive 3yo handicap over 7f featuring so many in-form horses plus the draw round a bend comes into this and high draw has to be viewed as not ideal but that didn’t stop the last two winners who were drawn in 13 and 14. The southern-trained interest is strong as John Gosden sends up Provident Spirit (drawn 5) who won his maiden well last time out at Newmarket after finishing second to the re-opposing top weight, That Is The Spirit, Sir Michael Stoute runs Idea (drawn 8 ) who unseated his rider at the start on his debut but then won cleverly at Windsor, Slemy (drawn 17) represents Richard Hannon, Frankie Dettori and Al Shaqab Racing after making all to win a Lingfield maiden on his second start, Ralph Beckett saddles Tea Leaf (drawn 14) under a 6lb penalty after a convincing win at Salisbury last week, Alan Jarvis runs Rogue Wave (drawn widest of all in 20) who he sent to Thirsk to break his maiden tag last week and the in-form Andrew Balding is responsible for the bottom weight, Mime Dance (drawn 3), who shaped like he didn’t stay 1m1f last time out and is down a quarter-mile in trip.
Richard Fahey has trained the winner three times in the last five years and is three-handed with Shot In The Sun (Paul Hanagan – drawn 2), Bretherton (Ryan Moore – drawn 19) and Tiger Twenty Two (George Chaloner – drawn 4). I would find it tough to support a horse as wide as 19 so Shot In The Sun may well be the yard’s best hope especially being a horse who likes to track the pace and is drawn 2. That said, TIGER TWENTY TWO has each-way claims having won and finished third at York in four starts here and judged by the way he lost second place last week over 1m when only beaten a length by the winner stepping up from 6f, a drop back to today’s 7f looks ideal. The most interesting runner, however, is the David O’Meara-trained once-raced top weight, THAT IS THE SPIRIT (drawn 6), who looked potentially Group class when making a really impressive debut at the Lincoln Meeting bagging the rail and beating Provident Spirit easily.
O’Meara took over as York’s top trainer last season ending Richard Fahey’s reign and had three handicap winners at the Ebor Meeting last August so anything he runs this week should be looked at very closely. If I am right that this is a Group horse sooner rather than later, he has to go close off a handicap mark of 90 despite top weight from stall 6. This is so competitive that he will need breaks though and my concern would be lack of experience to be running in a big field round a bend on just his second start if he really catches the imagination of the betting public. Other northern-trained horses to consider in a race that will throw up no end of winners are the hat-trick chasing New Bidder (drawn 12) for Jedd O’Keeffe who is up 9lb and up in trip from the first of those two wins, Two Smart (drawn 17) for the red hot Karl Burke stable at present, the James Given-trained Inyordreams (drawn 18) was second to the UAE Derby winner two starts back (admittedly beaten 16l) but then won 11 days ago and Brian Ellison turns to a hood for the first time for Epic Voyage (drawn 1) on his seasonal and handicap debut.
CONCLUSION- THAT IS THE SPIRIT is the horse I am most interested in but David O’Meara could not have found a more competitive handicap to run him in on just his second start and I am little worried that he could be over-bet. TIGER TWENTY TWO appeals as the best each-way alternative.
4:25 British Stallions Studs EBF Novice Stakes
Six two-year-olds have been declared for this £20K conditions race over 5f, four of which are previous winners and, despite the presence of Ryan Moore on the Richard Fahey-trained Winstanley, who was third of four on debut, they are the quartet to concentrate on. The Hannon stable have won two of the last four runnings and their representative is Magical Roundabout who won on debut at Windsor when 4/6 favourite but made quite hard work of it and was then last of four at Ascot last week. After he won at Windsor, his trainer commented he might want 6f already and he confirmed that impression at Ascot next time, though by hanging to his right he didn’t help himself. Abscent Friends finished one place ahead of Magical Roundabout on that occasion on his third start following a win at Southwell and finishing second in a Newmarket conditions race to the very impressive Mind Of Madness who would be the best two-year-old I have seen in Britain so far this season (with The Great War being the best in Ireland). Beaten 1¼ lengths at Ascot was a fair run behind two useful horses and that form sets the standard but he is a speedball and soft ground might take away some of his natural-speed advantage. With Mignolio needing to improve an awful lot on his debut fifth, that leaves the two unbeaten horses who were successful on their only start and we’ll start with CAPTAIN COLBY as Kevin Ryan has won this race twice in the last decade. This half-brother the multiple Group-winning sprinter, Benbaun, made his debut 11 days ago at Thirsk where he was well fancied being sent off second favourite and he knew his job plenty showing taking speed and then finding plenty in the final stages. The front two pulled 3½ lengths clear of the favourite so are both probably more than useful. Mark Johnston’s Mambo Paradise completes the sextet and was a ready but surprising winner on debut at Musselburgh 12 days ago judged by his SP of 16/1 where she had the re-opposing Winstanley back in third. She couldn’t have been showing much at home to start at that price given that she had just three rivals and Joe Fanning stated afterwards that she is still on the weak side.
CONCLUSION- I would give the nod to CAPTAIN COLBY.
5:00 Coopers Marquees Handicap
A 1m4f Class 4 handicap for older horses rated 0-85 closes the card and the classier horses have had a great time of it in the last eight years with seven winners carrying 9st+. As with the opening handicap on the card, it has been the southern raiders that have come out on top most recently after a period of northern domination but only Ralph Beckett’s Astra Hall and Brian Meehan’s Da Do Run Run, represent the south this time. Chances can argued for both however as Astra Hall has finished second in three of her last four starts including on her seasonal return at Doncaster but maybe she is too exposed to go one better here so DA DO RUN RUN is more interesting with Dettori booked. Although beaten seven lengths on his first since being outclassed in the Group 3 Queens Vase over 2m at Royal Ascot, he only found one too good in the Great Metropolitan Handicap at Epsom but the winner was clearly very well handicapped. He attempted to make all on that first run for around 11 months so was entitled to get tired and if that effort has brought him on, then he is a major player here running off the same handicap mark.
Of the home team, the Easterbys have to watched like hawks for all York handicaps at this meeting and Tim, who has won this particular handicap twice in the last seven years, runs his stalwart, Crackentorp, who he has successfully laid out to win three handicaps at the Knavesmire during his career and he is now 11lb lower than when successful for the last of those successes so if he has been trained to the minute, he is much respected. However, I would be surprised if this is not a step towards trying to win the Queen Mother’s Cup for lady riders at the June Meeting which he has won twice before as he has been beaten all three times he has run in this race. Therefore his stablemate, DEEPSAND, is more interesting under Graham Lee having been never dangerous under Lucy Alexander on his first run on the Flat since 2012 having been hurdling since. His previous Flat run was when second of 16 here at the 2012 October Meeting on a heavy surface so we know he handles the course well and acts with plenty of give underfoot and he is off a 4lb lower mark today having been absent on the Flat for over a season until what I hope was just a little pipe-opener for this handicap 18 days ago. Mick Easterby doesn’t want to pass the baton on yet and he lives for York winners so his Warlu Way is another to consider. I rather suspect that his only run this season 11 days was a tee up for the rest of the season when sixth so a case can be argued that he can reverse with the second, Astra Hall, and he has dropped to a mark 2lb lower than for his last win which was six starts back at Carlisle last June. Only beaten a nose here in last season’s Queen Mother’s Cup off 81, he is handicapped to go close off 83 if this is the day they have prepared him for but there must also be a possibility that he is being trained to go one place better in that prestigious lady riders’ race next month.
Richard Fahey runs three with Hanagan aboard Mica Mika who is mainly an all-weather course these days, Moore on Gabrial’s Star who won a Chester handicap last week on a similar surface and is unpenalised and Bayan Kirsirga under Samantha Bell. John Quinn is double handed with O Ma Lad and the more-interesting Recession Proof, a former winner of the £100K Betfair Hurdle at Newbury as a novice three seasons ago but he has lost his way since incurring an injury when fifth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle behind Al Ferof, Spirit Son, Sprinter Sacre and Cue Card. He has had a couple of All-Weather runs this spring not showing an awful lot but, if this race is the plan, then off a mark of 72 he can be competitive, though there has to be a chance that he has just lost it.
CONCLUSION-DEEPSAND (each-way) and DA DO RUN RUN make most appeal in a very trappy contest.