The Dante Festival at York, named after the northern-trained 1945 Derby winner, provides some final Classic clues ahead of Epsom as well as some top-class competitive racing at one of the fairest tracks in the land. An excellent week of action can almost be guaranteed on the Knavesmire and with recent rainfall, the ground looks likely to start on the softer side of good.
The first race of the week could not have a more competitive look to it as a qualifier for the Ebor in August. Twelve furlongs is the trip here with 19 runners set to go to post with plenty of Newmarket trainers represented and those from the north, who hate seeing the prize money head south, will be hoping to keep as many prizes as possible on ‘home’ soil this week.
Ilaraab had an incredible 3yo campaign, rattling off a five timer with victory here at York in October, rising 18lb in the process. Those wins were by a combined two and a half lengths so there is the prospect the handicapper is yet to get to grips with him and he is trained by native Yorkshireman William Haggas who loves a winner at this track.
My Frankel beat Taqareer by a length and a quarter and is 2lb worse off now suggesting they should finish closer together here, although Sir Michael Stoute won this race in 2013 and 2014 and both still plenty of improvement likely to come.
There was some early money for both Sam Cooke and Rhythmic Intent. Sam Cooke is a lightly raced 5yo with a course win to his name but has not been seen since finishing third at Wolves in December, while Rhythmic Intent is another course winner who is the mount of champion Oisin Murphy and will no doubt improve on his seasonal return at Chelmsford two weeks ago.
Raymond Tusk catches the eye for Alan King off a 12lb lower mark than when fourth in the 2019 Ebor and his last two runs were not devoid of promise, while Dubai Souq is respected for a yard with a good record in York handicaps.
THRONE HALL gets the nod though for Kevin Ryan and Kevin Stott. He was mightily impressive in winning at Doncaster in March, a victory that saw him get a 9lb rise and was not seen to the best effect in a small field at Thirsk three weeks ago where he was too keen early.
A better pace in a better race here will suit, an opinion confirmed by the trainer in a recent Racing Post article, and he can book his place in the Ebor in August.
Sprint handicaps on the Knavesmire are notoriously difficult to fathom and with eighteen runners set to face the starter at 2:10pm, this one is no different.
Kevin Ryan and Tim Easterby saddle seven of the field between them for a prize which has been kept in the north in eight of the last nine years with the last four winners having been drawn in a single figure stall.
Bielsa is a likely candidate for Ryan. He was fifth in the Sprint Trophy over track and trip in October and will benefit from a pipe opener when second at Ayr two weeks ago. Talking of Ayr, Ryan also saddles Ayr Silver Cup winner Magical Spirit, who was an eye-catching third on his comeback run at Doncaster and is considered. His team is completed with Wokingham winner Hey Jonesy, who will be targeted at that race once again and did not look like a winner in waiting when well beaten at Thirsk last time.
David Allan has chosen to ride Manigardo for Tim Easterby after winning at 25/1 at Thirsk sixteen days ago. He is up 8lb for that easy win but still looks feasibly treated on his early form last year for Richard Hannon. Staxton is a regular in these types of events, while Danzan and Hyperfocus complete the Tim Easterby team.
Keith Dalgleish also saddles a couple, including the 2019 winner Soldier’s Minute who is still 6lb above his winning mark for that success.
Choice is for ROULSTON SCAR though to take this prize down to Newmarket for Simon and Ed Crisford. He was formerly trained by Kevin Ryan and had course form figures of 331 when trained at Hambleton.
He changed hands for 110,000 Guineas two years ago to head to the Meydan carnival and has excellent form figures of the back of a break of 90 days or more of 221311 so is clearly well fresh and has a low draw in stall five. The booking of 5lb claimer Mark Crehan, who has ridden three winners in his last fourteen rides, is the icing on the cake for the 5yo.
The Duke of York Stake is one of the features of the meeting with a dozen top class sprinters heading to post.
Art Power had his finest hour at Royal Ascot last season and followed that success with credible runs at Group 1 level at the end of the season. Connections are excited about his 4yo career with him expected to come into his own with another winter of strengthening.
He will face July Cup hero Oxted for Roger Teal and Ryan Moore. Oxted was beaten in the Abernant Stakes by Summerghand on his seasonal debut, a race he had won in 2020 and is yet to race at York. But he is the top rated in the field and is a bonafide Group 1 sprinter who escapes a penalty for his top-level victory.
Plenty of others must be given chances. Molatham won last year’s Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot and drops in trip to six furlongs for in-form Roger Varian while the aforementioned Summerghand has also added the All-Weather Championship Sprint to his CV and is a danger to all in current heart. Danny Tudhope has been claimed by his retainers to ride Lady In France who is one from one at York, while Queen Jo Jo is another filly at a big price with good course form with figures of 313 from her trio of track visits.
Brando is a grand old servant to connections while Nahaarr was a jaw-dropping winner of the Ayr Gold Cup and looks likely to step up to group company this season, although this is quite a hot contest.
STARMAN is the selection for Ed Walker and Oisin Murphy. His only defeat in four starts came in the Champions Sprint where genuine soft ground may have been his undoing, but he only weakened late on there and was an easy winner of the Garrowby Stakes over track and trip last September.
In fact, all three of his wins look solid form, beating Fresh (rated 96 after Ascot win on Friday) on debut, Kings Lynn (now rated 95), giving him 2lb on second start, and the winning machine that is Dakota Gold here before his below par run at Ascot. Murphy takes over from Tom Marquand and is ideally stalled in four to track likely pace angle Emaraaty Ana.
The Musidora Stakes will see a filly emerge as a major contender for the Oaks in three week’s time at Epsom and a couple of them stand out in this year’s renewal.
Teona has been the subject of glowing reports at Newmarket in her preparation as she has not been seen since rocketing nine lengths clear at Newcastle in a maiden in November. She is beautifully bred, out of the same connections Group 1 winning mare Ambivalent and Derby winner Sea The Stars, so should be smart and I’m excited to see how she goes on her turf debut.
Slight preference though is for another blueblood in NOON STAR for Sir Michael Stoute. She is from a fantastic family out of another Group 1 winning mare in Midday, who won the Yorkshire Oaks here, and is related to several pattern race performers.
The form of Noon Star’s Wetherby victory was franked when the fourth home, Sherbet Lemon won the Lingfield Oaks Trial on Saturday, with the runner-up at Wetherby, Loving Dream, three lengths back in fifth. She won that comfortably from the front, quickening up nicely up the long straight, a trait that may stand her in good stead on the Knavesmire.
Mystery Angel did us a good turn when winning the Pretty Polly at Newmarket and is a streetwise filly who should run her race, I just feel this is a stronger contest than that race at HQ ten days ago.
Senita is a Frankel filly who represents John Gosden who has won half of the last ten renewals of the Musidora and will be popular under Frankie Dettori, but she will need to leave her poor Newbury effort behind when far too keen four weeks ago. Aidan O’Brien relies on Snowfall who ran in a lot of juvenile group races at the back end of the year and just has a Curragh maiden on her CV but the team landed a four timer on Sunday and any positive market vibes should be noted.
Twelve three-year-olds will head to the seven-furlong chute for a tricky looking handicap that concludes ITV coverage of day one of the Dante festival.
Rifleman is the horse who unseated Ryan Moore in the closing stages at Sandown recently and has been whacked up SEVEN pounds for not even completing the race. That looks harsh and Ryan Moore has decided he has had enough of the horse with Kieran O’Neill stepping into the breach. There is no saying he would have won at Sandown when swerving and with that half a stone rise, he is overlooked.
Huddleton Mac was lit up on his return in the Greenham when well beaten but could still build on the promise of his Sandown success last August under Oisin Murphy.
Wobwobwob should be match fit on his third start of the season. He had two wins and kept his form well after being gelded last season. He is just 1lb higher than when third at Newmarket over a mile four weeks ago and Tom Marquand is booked while Mark Johnston saddles Bowman who beat subsequent winner Rhoscolyn at Lingfield a fortnight ago and was highly tried as a juvenile.
A chance is taken with Clive Cox’s SADIQAA under William Buick. He has held his form well since a debut success and a gelding operation in winter may well help him concentrate. His third at Doncaster on final start was a promising effort and he was a good seventh in the Redcar two-year-old trophy. A mark of 81 looks fair and he handles some cut in the ground.