1:45 Betfred Supports Jack Berry House Handicap
The draw in yesterday’s sprints didn’t throw up any huge clues but the ground appeared to be racing softer in the home straight than the Round Course. Ancient Cross bids to win this handicap at the age of ten for the third time in four years, this time off a mark of 97 having won it in 2011 off 89 and 92 in 2013 so he looks right up against it to me having won the Ayr Silver later in the season which has bumped him up. In between those two successes in this race it was Judge ‘N Jury who won off 87 who is now also aged ten and he was also only beaten a length off 99 last year and is down to 95 today so I prefer him of the two old boys who have dominated this race lately. You would have to think his return at Lingfield was just a sighter for this.
Of the in-form horses taking in this race as their next port of call rather than those seemingly trained for the race, Normal Equilibrium and Pandar arrive here off last-time-out wins. Normal Equilibrium has a 6lb penalty to overcome for a win at Lingfield last week in a much less competitive race whereas Pandar squeezes in off bottom weight after a shock 40/1 success at Goodwood 12 days ago. I think I would rather prefer to look to those trained for the race. Ballesteros is the sole Fahey representative and the less it dries out, the better his chance. He shaped well enough on his return at Newbury to suggest that he can be a factor if it stays soft with four of his five career wins being achieved on soft or heavy ground.
York form is often important and Bogart, Secret Asset and Monsieur Joe are course-and-distance winners. Bogart won the equivalent race to this at last season’s Ebor Meeting so it is no surprise that Kevin Ryan has aimed him here off a 3lb higher mark so that is not too harsh at all and Spencer rides him for the first time. The stable’s Blaine was a good third in yesterday’s sprint handicap and he and Bogart have a similar profile in that they were both smart two-year-olds that have two wins on the board at the Knavesmire. Secret Asset won that same Ebor Meeting 5f handicap in 2011, one of two wins at York, but he is a 9yo now having his seasonal debut. Monsieur Joe drops in class from Listed standard and ran well out in Dubai and I wouldn’t put a bold run beyond him having his first handicap start in Britain since he won the 5f sprint handicap at the 2010 Ebor Meeting (though he has had lots of handicap runs at Meydan).
In summary, Judge ‘N Jury (each-way) would be a tentative selection having won and finished second in this race for the last two years and has dropped down the weights since with Bogart and Monsieur Joe also making some appeal.
2:15 Betfred £10 Million Scoop6 This Saturday Middleton Stakes
A Group 2 race for older fillies and mares over an extended 1m2f which has been won by a horse in the first two in the betting for nine of the last ten years so this is one of the few races at the Dante Meeting that can be approached with a degree of confidence. The favourite has won the last four renewals but it is not simple to identify who will be this season’s market leader with Secret Gesture, Thistle Bird and Ambivalent priced up tightly with Gifted Girl, Mango Diva and The Lark not all that far behind in the betting. Top rated on official figures is Thistle Bird (by 4lb) but at the age of six, she is likely to have plateaued whereas there could be more to come from those fillies who turned four this season. Her rating of 114 was achieved when narrowly beaten at 33/1 in the Group 1 Nassau Stakes but it was an unsatisfactory race with Sky Lantern hampered and the 20/1 winner, Winsili, won’t go down as a great winner (though she has not run since in fairness) so I am sceptical about that rating. She also needed her first run of last season a little as her trainer stated she would when third behind Dank before winning at Epsom when beating the re-opposing Gifted Girl by ¾l. In fact, she has won second time out for all three seasons she has been racing so I would be surprised if this seasonal debut does not bring her on whether she wins, places or finishes out of the money. Gifted Girl is consistent and ran pretty well again when third to Esoterique and Integral in the Dahlia Stakes on hersseasonal return but she is vulnerable at this level being 0-5 in Group races though placing of four of those occasions, notably when second to Dank in America in August when beaten 4½ lengths.
Last season’s Oaks second and third both make their seasonal debut. Secret Gesture had The Lark less than a length behind at Epsom though the third may well have grabbed the runner-up position but for having to be switched three times in the final 2f. Both give the impression that this shorter trip is sharper than ideal, though soft ground will help in this respect, so it could be that their connections are using this race to start them off before they are raised back up in distance so it has to be questioned whether they are also fighting fit. Secret Gesture, for example, was last of nine when dropping back to this trip on her final start in the Prix de l’Opera where Thistle Bird was a close-up third, though maybe a long season had taken its toll by then. The Lark didn’t really go on from her Oaks third either despite winning a poor renewal of the Park Hill Stakes over an extended 1m6f for which she has picked up a 2lb penalty today. Significantly, however, she ended the season over 2m when seventh in the Prix Royal Oak which tells us they think of her as a much more of a stayer so it will be some effort to win first time out over an extended 1m2f.
Ambivalent isn’t the easiest and has been known to give trouble at the start but she strikes me as the best percentage play if she doesn’t play up too much based on a cracking third benhind a dual Japan Cup winner in Gentildonna and Cirrus Des Aigles no less in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic despite a slow start and especially now that the ground is drying out and is also quicker on the Round Course. That terrific run aside for which she was sent off at 50/1 and was her first run since September, she also has a fitness edge over three of her main rivals which could prove to be important. I’m struggling to see why she is not outright favourite purely on that run in the desert to be honest though I concede she has no soft-ground form to speak of as yet but that may not be as much as a factor than it was on Day 1. She has also not run on soft ground since she started her improvement which included a defeat of the 2012 Oaks winner, Was, in the Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes at The Curragh last June for which she escapes a penalty. Sinaadi has little chance but Mango Diva has a shot for the Stoute stable on her seasonal debut who won this race in 2008 and 2009 with similarly-progressive fillies who were also having their first run of the season. She ended last campaign with a brace of wins in Listed and Group 3 company and we all know how the stable improve horses from three to four. She will need to improve though on bare form as they were not pattern races she was winning but she looks very capable of doing so. Odeliz, who is held by Gifted Girl on Dahlia Stakes form, and Quiz Mistress, who will love the soft ground but is better over 1m4f, make up the field.
In summary, Abivalent isn’t the easiest but she deserves to be favourite purely on her last run in Dubai in addition to be race-fit and being unpenalised for her Group 1 win last season. I would look to her and the improving Mango Diva as my two against the field with doubts over the trip for last season’s Oaks second and third and the potential fitness of Thistle Bird who generally improves for a run.
2:45 Betfred Dante Stakes
The Dante winner has doubled up in the Derby on three occasions between 2004-2007 (plus four more doubled up between 1986-1997), Workforce went one place better at Epsom than at York in 2010 and last season’s winner finished runner-up so it remains the best British trial. Disappointing for today’s contest that Kingston Hill, who is disputing third-favouritism for Epsom, misses the race though that is probably a sensible move but we still have the top-priced 6/1 second-favourite in True Story taking his chance after he smashed up the Irish 2000 Guineas-bound Obliterator by seven lengths in the Feilden Stakes over 1m1f despite being slowly into astride and taking a keen hold with Kieren Fallon now taking over from Sylestre De Sousa. The politics of that jockey decision aside, what True Story backers have in their favour for his next two starts if all goes to plan is the services of the jockey who rides both York and Epsom better than anyone still holding a licence. Being by Manduro out of a Darshaan mare, True Story should appreciate this extra furlong and 88 yards but my one slight niggle given odds of around 8/11 is that Godolphin often run their best Derby hope in the Dante but they have only won it once in the last 18 years since Classic Cliche took the 1995 contest. The Hannon stable have never been regarded as a yard for top-class, middle-distance horses but that is due to the type of horses they buy rather than anything to do with training methods and, with the right horse with a staying pedigree, I am sure they can do as good a job as they have with horses over a shorter distance and Bunker may be such a horse. Bought by what is now Al Shaqab Racing after he won on his debut, he then finished second to Berkshire in the Chesham before beating last weekend’s French 2000 Guineas winner, Karakontie, by a short-head in a Listed race at Deauville on his only other start and is now up 3½f in trip for his seasonal return. The ground being on the soft side shouldn’t present a problem being by Hurricane Run but the Hannon stable usually leave something to work on with their seasonal debutants. I’m sure they would be delighted if he finishes second to True Story if shaping well in the process.
Arod represents Qatar Racing Limited and his trainer, Peter Chapple-Hyam, has won the Derby twice including with Authorized who won the Dante en route. I suppose they need to find out where they stand with him having won a Windsor maiden on his second start by 5l last month despite doing everything wrong in the first half of the race according to Jamie Spencer and, judged by the way he was well backed, he had clearly come on a bundle for his only start at two when third in a Kempton maiden. His trainer was quick to talk him down afterwards which, to me, is generally a sign he is inwardly very excited by him. The 2000 Guineas tenth, The Great Gatsby, will run his race. Whether that is good enough I have my doubts as he has been well beaten both times he has contested a Group 1 and he is not entered in the Derby but Dante winners have run down the 2000 Guineas field before. The pick of his form is a 2l second to Toormore but his York profile gives cause for optimism that he can put in a good show in a small field, especially if he leads and can dictate the pace under the master tactician, Ryan Moore, taking the mount for the first time. The two outsiders are hard to fancy. The James Fanshawe-trained Saab Almanal has found one too good on both starts (both at Nottingham) and is also not in the Derby and James Given lets the Redcar maiden winner, Odeon, take his chance. He did win by 9l however so he might find it tough to win a handicap off 93 and there is prize money down to last place so why not have a crack for local connections?
In summary, True Story will be hard to beat but Godolphin’s record in the race would put me off from a substantial interest at odds-on. Bunker is likely to improve on whatever he achieves here so maybe The Great Gatsby each-way at a double-figure price (like 3 of the last 6 winners) is the best sporting alternative if Moore, who rides for the first time, can be at his brilliant tactical best on him in a small field on a course where the horse has twice run well.
3:15 Betfred Hambleton Handicap
A Listed handicap over 1m for older horses, Fury beat Prince Of Johanne by a short-head in this race two years ago and both are back again. Plenty of water has flown under the bridge since then as Fury has gone backwards to the tune of 9lb whereas Prince Of Johanne has been raised 2lb and also won a Royal Hunt Cup and he repeated his second place finish in this race last year off the same handicap mark as today when beaten by 1½ lengths by Navajo Chief who also takes his chance again off a 3lb lower mark. It would be an interesting story if Navajo Chief won again given his trainer is Alan Jarvis who has been deemed no longer suitable to hold a licence when his appeal failed after four decades of training on Tuesday. Fallon rides Navajo Chief which a is a big plus for any York handicap as he rides the course so well knowing that he has to get horses rolling to meet their momentum earlier than his rivals. This is his seasonal debut but that didn’t stop him 12 months ago. Back to Prince Of Johanne and it may be asking a little too much to think he can go one place better as an eight-year-old not having had the benefit of a previous run this season, but he should give another good account of himself and is worthy of consideration for a place-only bet. Fury has a pretty good York profile and it would be no surprise if he bounced back to form off his lowest ever handicap mark. Haggas targets York handicaps with excellent results so it would be no surprise if a repeat win in this race off a 9lb lower mark with Moore booked (as he was when he won this race in 2012) has been a long-term project. He also handles soft ground having only been beaten a neck in the 22-runner Spring Cup at Newbury in 2012 and his trainer has always felt he has more ability than he shows.
David O’Meara is double handed with Ingleby Angel the main hope rather than the nine-year-old, Sweet Lightning, who has been very busy this season already in Meydan and three subsequent races. Ingleby Angel has ¾l to find with Fort Bastion where they finished second and first in the Thirsk Hunt Cup 12 days ago and, for what is worth, he is 2lb better off today. The winner has clearly improved for a move to Ruth Carr so there could be more to come but I just get the feeling that O’Meara is steadily bringing Ingleby Angel to the boil and he could improve more of the pair from that Thirsk run. As I mentioned yesterday, O’Meara was York’s leading trainer last season including three handicap wins at the Ebor Meeting, which takes some doing, and he won the 7f handicap on Day 1 with the impressive That Is the Spirit. Spa’s Dancer returned to form when second to Gabrial’s Kaka after meeting trouble in running in the highly competitive Spring Cup at Newbury at 25/1 and has only been raised 2lb for beating 21 other rivals where he travelled strongly. He would have gone up around 7lb if the winner wasn’t in the field so he has to be of interest for James Eustace who has had two winners with his last three runners before Day 1 of this meeting. In addition to Fury, Haggas also saddles Queensberry Rules with Jamie Spencer booked and he has more potential being a four-year-old who was unraced at two. Third in last season’s Britannia Handicap at Royal Ascot off 95, he was disappointing in two of his subsequent three starts off 100 so perhaps it is surprising to see the Handicapper has not dropped him yet and maybe he will be more interesting if he does later in the season? He wasn’t disgraced however when beaten 2¼ lengths here at the Ebor Meeting when he took a keen hold after being sent off favourite.
In summary, Ingleby Angel makes most appeal ahead of Fury.
3:50 British Stallion Studs EBF Conditions Stakes
Six declarations for this 5f conditions race for 3yos for which Ambiance and Shamson both have a 5lb penalty to overcome for winning a Listed race. Ambiance’s Listed win came at Sandown during the summer on good-to-firm ground but she was also only beaten 1½ lengths in the Molecomb (Group 3) on good-to-soft so we know he can handle some cut. After that run, Mick Channon turned to a visor when he tackled the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes finishing an outclassed fourth of five when upped to 6f and persisted with the headgear for his only other start when last of seven back to 5f for the Flying Childers where maybe he done enough for the season. Now in the care of Roger Varian, the visor has been removed. Shamson’s Listed win came when the Hannon team sent him to Deauville in August over 5f before before finishing a close up fifth of seven in the Mill Reef (Group 2). Al Shaqab Racing then decided they wanted him at the Breeders’ Cup over 1m so we can easily overlook him beating just two home. Back down to sprinting again looks the right move but, as always with Hannon, he will have been left a little short of full fitness for his return which will take place on softer ground on the straight course and that’s not an ideal combination.
Justice Day came to hand early last season so I have little doubt that he will be ready first time out and he also kept improving in the autumn. He too is penalised but 3lb rather 5lb for winning a Class 2 race and it is interesting that Elsworth turns to Ryan Moore as the only time he rode Justice Day in nine starts as a juvenile was when he was beaten a short head by the subsequent 1000 Guineas runner-up, Lightning Thunder, at Doncaster. He ended his campaign with a 2l third in the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes and that form makes him the one to beat especially as we also know he handles cut in the ground having won his previous start at Salisbury by 3l on a heavy surface. The two unpenalised fillies, Hay Chewed and One Chance, look up against it but the unpenalised Eccleston for David O’Meara who won last season’s renewal of this race has a chance having beaten Hay Chewed into second on soft ground at Sandown last month quite convincingly on his first start since leaving Richard Fahey but he was no match whatsoever for the very speedy Mecca’s Angel next time when beaten 8l into second in a similar race to this so that would need to be forgiven.
In summary, Justice Day has the best form, came to hand early last season, receives 2lb from two of his main rivals and Ryan Moore is booked for the first time so he would be my fancy.
4:25 Stratford Place Stud Chrisellium Memorial EBF Stallions Maiden Stakes
Traditionally the first 6f two-year-old race of the turf season but there is so much guesswork involved here with eight of the nine declarations being debutants so it is a race to watch for the future. Portamento is the only contender with race experience having finished fifth to the very impressive Mind Of Madness at the Craven Meeting for Charlie Appleby after being sent off second favourite but he was slowly away so that experience is unlikely to be lost on him. Mick Channon used to like to introduce a nice debutant in this race during the 1990s and he trained the winner again three years ago so his Bossy Guest with Willy Twiston-Davies taking off 3lb is more interesting than most. Tim Easterby runs a couple but his debutants generally improve for a run, Silver Ranger represents Hannon and Moore so is likely to be popular but the stable have not won this race recently and Richard Fahey, who won last season’s renewal, runs Bonds Choice so he is likely to be regarded as one of the better early-season juveniles at his yard.
In summary, the market has been a pretty good guide with the last nine winners starting at no bigger than 8/1 so with eight debutants, that is likely to be important again. Portamento certainly showed enough on debut to suggest he could be hard to kick out of the first three and Bossy Guest and Binds Choice appeal most of the debutants given their trainer’s record in the race.
5:00 Investec Specialist Bank Handicap
A 2m staying handicap closes Day 2 and followers of the’ back a predominantly jumps-based trainer in these races system’ have had a whale of a time of it in this race down the years. Jonjo O’Neill became the latest to land a big-priced winner of this race last year following Hobbs and Henderson in recent years and the latter is the big jumps name with a runner this season having declared the top weight, Suraj, and acquired the services of Jamie Spencer. He trickled down the weights last season after failing to place in the Chester Cup, Ascot Stakes and at the Ebor Meeting and is now only 2lb higher than when last successful which was by six lengths and he has only once been out of the first three in six starts when the ground rode on the soft side of Good. Malcolm Jefferson is also better known for his jumping exploits and he runs the classy chaser, Cape Tribulation, who has not run since he was third off top weight in the Rowland Meyrick Chase at Wetherby over Christmas. He didn’t really spark before then so the chances are that age is catching up a little with the ten-year-old but he races off just 79 here and the last time we saw him on the Flat he was winning at this course off a mark of 80 on soft ground in October 2012 so I sense his canny trainer has had this race in mind for him for quite some time.
John Quinn is the leading dual purpose trainer in the North and he runs three here and chances can all be argued for all of them. Calculated Risk has squeezed in off bottom weight and finished strongly to be third at Pontefract back to the Flat last time out after being hurdling and he really enjoys cut in the ground and Hidden Justice won a handicap hurdle on his last start and started favourite for this race last year but could only finish eighth. However, Moidore interests me most of his trio. He hasn’t won for a while but he was second in this race last year and he is off a 5lb lower mark this time so I suspect his trainer has had this handicap in mind since the start of the season so I wouldn’t read much into his two well-beaten efforts in April. He travelled strongly throughout in last year’s race after beating just one home in his prep race in the same Ripon handicap in which he was well beaten again last time out so they are going down the same preparation, but unfortunately he came up against an extremely well handicapped rival in Well Sharp who was so well treated that he then won at Royal Ascot off a 10lb higher mark beating the subsequent Ebor winner on his next start so Moidore really did bump into one. Eagle Rock only beat two home that day but has a good York profile and had a pipe opener last month so I can see him fare much better. However, if I am right that Moidore has been trained with this race in mind, hopefully at least 16 of the 17 declarations will stand their ground as he appeals as the each-way bet of the day. Entihaa is respected on his second place at Nottingham last time out for Alan Swinbank who likes a York handicap winner, Bob’s World has been in good form this season and Ralph Beckett’s Albert Bridge shaped like this extra 2f would do him no harm at all when third at Salisbury last time.
In summary, I am with Moidore each-way here to go one place better than last year off a 5lb lower having finished down the field in the same prep race where he fared as moderately in last year and also respect Nicky Henderson’s top weight, Suraj.