After what has seemed an eternal winter, racing finally returns to the world famous Knavesmire this week as York’s three-day Dante Festival looks set to spark the British Flat season into life.
With so many disappointing and inconclusive Derby trials run across Britain’s racecourses so far this season, York looks set to take centre stage as the market principals in the betting for the Epsom Derby all head to the Knavesmire hoping to enhance their classic hopes with an impressive performance in the Festival Feature, The Dante Stakes.
With a record of over £1 million in prize money on offer across the three-day meeting, a mass of entries and no fewer than five group races, it looks set to be a great way to kick off York’s Racing Calendar.
The Betfred Dante Stakes (Group 2) is traditionally regarded as the best trial race for the Epsom Derby in June and with no fewer than nine past winners going on to claim classic glory the stats are there to back this theory up.
The top five in the betting for the Derby are all set to show their credentials in Thursday’s showpiece at the Knavesmire and it looks certain that the winner of this vintage renewal of the Dante will start a red hot favourite in the Derby.
John Gosden has two unbeaten colts entered up in the shape of Golden Horn and the current Derby and Dante favourite Jack Hobbs.
Despite only winning a Sandown handicap off a mark of 85 last time out, the manner in which Jack Hobbs quickened away from the rest of the field was breathtaking but he has yet to do it at the top level, which can also be said of his stablemate Golden Horn, who has however been given glowing reports this week off some Newmarket Gallops watchers.
One horse who has certainly proved he deserves to dine at racing’s top table is last year’s Racing Post Trophy (Group 1) winner Elm Park.
The Andrew Balding trained colt has not ran since his Doncaster victory last year and was a non-runner in the 2000 Guineas due to the firm ground, but with the going on the Knavesmire currently good to soft, conditions look set to be ideal.
He brings the best form into the race and he has always been held in the highest regard by Balding.
He said: “He is one of the top rated horses in the Derby and he has to go to York for the experience. We are very optimistic that is he is going to give a good show.
“It does look a very hot race, but not wanting to sound overly bullish, he is the one the rest of them have got to beat.
“We were really worried about running him on very fast ground going down the hill at Newmarket.
“The whole point of a prep is to have him spot on for the Derby, not risk jarring him up.
The fact there has been some rain just means we know he will handle the ground perfectly and it helps him.”
Aiden O’Brien looks set to send over his usual battalion of runners from Ireland with no fewer than seven entered for the feature on day two, but his two most likely winners John F Kennedy and Ol’ Man River have alot to prove after both flopping badly on their last starts.
Fridays feature race, The Betway Yorkshire Cup, sees recent Dubai Gold Cup winner Brown Panther looking to cement his place as one of the best long distance horse’s in the world.
Famously owned by former England footballer Michael Owen, Brown Panther is hoping to scalp this valuable Group 2 en route to another crack at The Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.
His two closest rivals in the market are last year’s second and third in the St Leger, Romsdal and Snow Sky, who themselves hold lofty ambitions in Group ones for the forthcoming season.
However, it would be very disappointing if the Tom Dascombe trained Brown Panther was unable to back up his recent impressive victory in Meydan with a comfortable victory here at York and he may well start a good deal shorter than the 5/2 currently available.
The top class flat action starts to come thick and fast now and on Saturday the feature race is at Newbury as the top miler’s go toe to toe in the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes.
I can’t help but feel that the David O’Meara trained Custom Cut has been completely overlooked in the market.
Available at 16/1 at the time of writing really underestimates his chances as not only does he bring some of the best form into the race, he is also one of the most genuine and determined horses in training and he’s certain to try his heart out for you. He’s an each way steal.
Elm Park: Dante Stakes, York, Thursday, 3/1
Brown Panther: Yorkshire Cup, York, Friday, 5/2
Custom Cut: Lockinge Stakes, York, Saturday, 16/1
Tiggy Wiggy: 20/1 (already advised) 1000 Guineas, Newmarket, Sunday.