The proud county of Yorkshire takes centre stage in the Flat season over the next month, with York’s Ebor meeting followed by the St Leger bun fight at Doncaster.
And there’s no doubt they have plenty to be proud about on the Knavesmire where one of the great meetings of the year takes place this week.
Considering the Ebor Festival is steeped in tradition, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth when it was extended from three days to four and then switched to encompass a Saturday.
But unlike Newmarket’s July meeting, few have detected damage, dilution or deterioration.
Ebor Day, which stages the superb 14f handicap, does not yet resemble the boozy, bawdy Saturdays that distinguish high summer at York.
And most importantly, the quality and competitiveness of the racing remains as rich as ever at a meeting it would be simply negligent to miss. There’s a Group one race each day, some two-year-old contests to die for and handicaps that present many tempting betting opportunities.
At the time of writing, we now know the 48-hour declarations for the opening two days and the four-day decs for the subsequent two days. Here are the initial thoughts of our resident racing expert, RICHARD ‘SCOOP’ SILVERWOOD:
DAY ONE (Wednesday 21st August)
1.55 The meeting opens with an impossible-looking sprint handicap. But it is high time Jamie Osborne’s FACE THE PROBLEM won this term, and this unusual 5.5f trip suits him ideally. It’s probably significant that James Doyle has been booked to ride. BARNET FAIR, who beat Face The Problem at Ascot last month, might also be interesting now that he’s re-united with 5lb claimer Connor Beasley, for whom he goes best.
2.30 Three terrific Group contests follow, starting with the 7f Acomb Stakes for two-year-olds. The pick of a small but select field appear to be a couple of once-raced, impressive maiden winners, THE GREY GATSBY for Kevin Ryan and FIRST FLIGHT for Saeed Bin Suroor. Both spreadeagled their fields with remarkable performances on debut -- the former despite palpable greenness and the latter despite missing the break by five or six lengths.
3.05 The reputation of the Great Voltigeur Stakes as one of the most informative trials for the St Leger is tested by a sub-standard renewal. For some mysterious reason, many cynics took great delight in rubbishing one-time Derby favourite TELESCOPE after a slightly disappointing run at Haydock last time. Up in trip and back against his own generation, Sir Michael Stoute’s should deliver the goods this time.
3.40 A fascinating clash of the generations in the Group One Juddmonte International pitches AL KAZEEM, three-time Group One winner already this term, against the brilliant three-year-old TORONADO. Given the previously-stated reluctance of connections to commit him on fast ground again and the fact that his main target is the Arc or the Champion Stakes, I wonder if Roger Charlton’s four-year-old will be firing on enough cylinders after a break to repel the superior speed of the Hannon star. In any event, both have all on getting past Irish Derby winner TRADING LEATHER, for whom this 10f trip could well be perfect.
4.20 and 4.55 Two trappy and tricky handicaps conclude the day. Glorious Goodwood winner BROXBOURNE appeals in the 2m heat, even though trainer Mark Johnston has an abysmal record at York. But don’t even ask me about the 6f Nursery, although I hear Charlie Hills’s JAZZ is fancied.
DAY TWO (Thursday 22nd August)
1.55 Another head-scratcher to start the day as a maximum field of 20 two-year-olds lines up for the first big Sales race of the season. Considering Richard Hannon’s MIDNITE ANGEL was the clear form-pick, it might be telling that he relies instead on speedy Epsom winner THUNDER STRIKE. However, Richard Fahey’s RUFFORD won well on the track in June before disappointing next time. Don’t let the poor record in the race of fillies put you off OASIS TOWN, who is one of Kevin Ryan’s speediest juveniles.
2.30 The Group Two Lowther Stakes for juvenile fillies looks unlikely to be the strongest of renewals, so Brian Meehan’s highly-rated J WONDER could make the successful transition from Nursery company. Her chance is improved by the decision not to bring out SANDIVA again only five days after her impressive victory in France at the weekend. The biggest danger now could be Mick Channon’s KAIULANI, who is far better than she showed at Royal Ascot.
3.05 The 1m Goddard Handicap has been re-named in favour of new sponsors, Clipper Logistics, but remains as hard to solve as ever. The booking of Johnny Murtagh did suggest this was the target for EDUCATE, who was desperately unlucky at Haydock last time. But he now looks likely to go for the 10f handicap later in the week. Of the three-year-olds, who have a respectable record in the race, Betfred Mile winner WENTWORTH stands out, although William Haggas raider QUEENSBERRY RULES is expected to bounce back after disappointing at Royal Ascot.
3.40 Although Oaks heroine TALENT was originally nominated for the Group One contest of the day, the Yorkshire Oaks, I am yet to be convinced that she is superior to stablemate SECRET GESTURE, whom I delighted to see Ralph Beckett is allowing to take her chance instead. With the ground unlikely to suit WILD COCO, the diabolical record of Ribblesdale Stakes winners putting me off RIPOSTE, the race could be ripe for a return to form of proven Group One mare THE FUGUE. Don’t be surprised, however, if her stamina limitations are exposed by Aidan O’Brien’s rapidly-improving filly, VENUS DE MILO.
4.20 Forty minutes later, it’s the same 12f trip for lesser fillies and mares in the Listed Galtres Stakes. But it’s no less an intriguing race, with William Haggas holding a very strong hand, courtesy of OUR OBSESSION and LADY NOUF. John Gosden’s CUSHION is finally getting the hang of things, though, and caught the eye in a hot race at Newbury last time, just behind SONGBIRD, a smart Godolphin comntender.
4.55 Fillies wrap up the day too in a 7f handicap that offers David O’Meara’s DUTCH ROSE a major chance to return to winning ways on a track she loves. Mind you, the booking of Johnny Murtagh for DESERT IMAGE, who was a very smart two-year-old, takes the eye.
DAY THREE (Friday 23rd August)
1.55 Cheltenham Festival winner TED VEALE is an intriguing runner in the opening 12f handicap -- as is Sir Michael Stoute’s GOSPEL CHOIR, who makes a belated seasonal return after looking potentially Group class last term. Ebor entry BISHOP ROKO has always been held in high regard and don’t rule out even more improvement from Mark Johnston’s remarkably consistent three-year-old SENNOCKIAN STAR going up in trip.
2.30 On all known evidence, the 2m Lonsdale Cup is at the mercy of Ascot Gold Cup winner ESTIMATE, owned by The Queen. But she is burdened by a 4lb penalty, so Willie Mullins’s Royal runner-up SIMENON could gain revenge. Personally, I am praying that Aidan O’Brien lets ERNEST HEMINGWAY take his chance. The one-time Classic hope improved dramatically for a trip two starts ago and remains largely unexposed.
3.05 The 1m1f trip of the Group Two Strensall Stakes might well play to the strengths of Sir Michael Stoute’s classy filly PAVLOSK, who ran well from a bad draw at Goodwood and was previously considered good enough to tackle Group One company at Royal Ascot. Dangers abound, particularly John Gosden’s FENCING, who was out of his depth in the Lockinge Stakes and unsuited by trip and ground at Goodwood.
3.40 The big race of day three, the 5f Nunthorpe Stakes, promises to be a cracker. SOLE POWER bids to land the spoils for a second time, but Irish handler Eddie Lynam’s second string, SLADE POWER, might just be improving past him. SWISS SPIRIT deserves better luck than he got when second at Goodwood and Haydock earlier this term, while the three-year-old MOVIESTA travels so well, he couild take advantage of his age allowance. At bigger odds, don’t be surprised if HEERAAT is on the premises for William Haggas (whose birthday it is today) and Paul Hanagan, while it might be significant that the owners of Wokingham winner YORK GLORY are travelling over from Bahrain for the day.
4.20 One of the biggest eyecatchers of the entire Glorious Goodwood meeting, both in the paddock and on the track, was the Godolphin two-year-old GOLDEN TOWN. He could well be all the rage to get off the mark in the only maiden race of the meeting at 4.20. Similarly imposing and similarly promising at the Sussex track was MASTER THE WORLD, while Ed Dunlop’s RED GALILEO ran a blinder on his debut too.
4.55 A new 1m handicap for three-year-olds concludes the afternoon, much to the chagrin of trends followers. Providing the ground isn’t too quick, Sir Michael Stoute’s ENOBLED looks thrown in off a mark of 88 on the evidence of his sparkling win at Goodwood in May. Mind you, Ger Lyons sends over an interesting contender from Ireland in MACHETE MARK, who caught the eye at Royal Ascot in June.
DAY FOUR (Saturday 24th August)
2.05 Ebor Day begins with the 7f Listed City Of York Stakes in which, it should be noted, three-year-olds have a dodgy record. The draw will also play its part (single figures essential), so GABRIELS LAD is a tentative each/way poke in the hope that he can make the switch from handicap company.
2.40 The Melrose Handicap for three-year-olds has developed into one of the best staying races for up-and-coming three-year-olds -- and this year’s renewal appears as hot as ever. Honest galloper HAVANA COOLER is an ideal type to maintain Luca Cumani’s fine record in the contest, although the rapidly improving ARGENT KNIGHT fascinates me too.
3.15 York has bolstered the prize fund for the Group Two Gimcrack Stakes to a massive £200,000 in an attempt to improve the quality of the fields. The response from owners and trainers has not been overwhelming, judging by the four-day entries, but Richard Fahey’s PARBOLD is potentially top class and was given too much to do when stepped up in trip at Goodwood last time.
3.50 The Ebor itself is next up, and I am particularly sweet on CARAVAN ROLLS ON, trained by Peter Chapple-Hyam, and TIGER CLIFF, from the Lady Cecil yard. There was little between the pair in a warm staying handicap at Newmarket in May, and both have gone on to distinguish themselves since. Improving four-year-olds with handy weights, they have most to fear from a trio higher up the handicap but still with plenty to offer -- SUN CENTRAL, SHEIKHZAYEDROAD and OPINION.
4.25 The 5f Roses Stakes for two-year-olds will be all speed, which must bring Kevin Ryan’s SLEEPER KING into the equation if he doesn’t take up an alternative engagement in the Sales race on Thursday. It’s crazy that a colt of his ability has won just once from four starts. Mind you, Ryan has an able deputy in HOT STREAK should he choose to unleash him in the same event, while Richard Fahey’s SALFORD RED DEVIL is better than he showed at Goodwood last month.
5.00 and 5.35 The day finishes with two more competitive handicaps. Charlie Hills’s quirky but talented FORGOTTEN HERO deserves a change of fortune in the 10f affair. He settled much better at Ascot last time. EDUCATE and SENNOCKIAN STAR would be of interest if re-routed to this race from engagements earlier in the meeting, particularly the former should Johnny Murtagh be on board. As for the concluding 5f sprint for apprentices, the weights will be headed by David Barron’s COSMIC CHATTER, who has more ability than he has shown so far this term. TUMBLEWIND will be a tough nut to crack, though, while a return to form by HOOFALONG would not be beyond the capabilities of veteran handler Mick Easterby to end the week with a Yorkshire triumph.