Dark Shift bids to execute a long-term plan when he lines up for the Pavers Foundation Catherine Memorial Sprint Handicap at York.
Trainer Charlie Hills has had Saturday’s valuable heritage handicap over six furlongs in mind for some time for the lightly-raced son of Dark Angel.
Despite having just the two starts as a juvenile last season, Dark Shift showed plenty of promise. After winning by four lengths on his debut at Ascot in September, he was collared close home when runner-up to Apollo One at Salisbury four weeks later.
He was sent off 4-7 favourite for his reappearance at Nottingham five weeks ago and put up a pleasing display to land a cosy success in a 13-runner novice event.
Dark Shift makes his handicap bow off a mark of 88, and is expected to go well.
“This race has always been the plan from a long way off,” said Hills.
“We were pleased with his only start this season, and he’s been training nicely.”
The Lambourn handler also saddles Jadwal, who came out second best behind Jumby in a competitive handicap at Newmarket four weeks ago.
“It was a big run at Newmarket last time,” he said.
“He went up 7lb for that run for not winning, which was frustrating. But he’s a horse that is improving, and we like him.”
Tim Easterby has targeted Showalong at this prize for some time, although both the Showcasing colt’s previous runs this season have come over the minimum trip. However, he did score over six at Redcar in August.
“He’s in very good form and is working well. I’m very happy with him. This race has been the target,” said the Great Habton trainer.
“He’s been running over five so far this season, but he’s very adaptable. It doesn’t really matter.”
Easterby has a second string to his bow in Barney’s Bay, who had won twice in succession before finishing well behind Jadwal at Newmarket. That below-par effort remains a mystery to the trainer.
“He’s a very nice horse and is in good form. We’re looking forward to the run,” he said.
“We don’t really know what happened at Newmarket last time. He ran no race at all.”
Like Dark Shift, Skyrunner will be having only his fourth race – but he has already run at trips from five to seven furlongs.
Trainer William Haggas feels this trip is right for the Invincible Spirit colt – and just hopes Skyrunner is ready for this test, despite his relative inexperience.
“He’s progressive. He won well, and I think six furlongs is a good distance for him,” said Haggas.
“I expect him to run a good race. Whether he’s quite streetwise for a race like that, we’re going to find out tomorrow.”
Of the remainder, sole Irish challenger Ger Lyons’ Alkido is joint top weight with Richard Fahey’s Internationaldream – while Kevin Ryan has four runners in Uncle Jumbo, Ben Macdui, Seven Brothers and Fighter Pilot.
Ranch Hand will try to defy a 3lb penalty in the Listed Sky Bet Race To The Ebor Grand Cup Stakes.
Andrew Balding’s five-year-old scored at this level at Newmarket in September. was runner-up in the Group Three Henry II Stakes at Sandown last time and won his first two starts this term.
“I’d hope he’d have a good chance. It will be faster ground than he’s used to, but he’s run some very solid races this year,” said Balding.
“He’s got a penalty – but he’s in good shape and hopefully he’ll run well.”
Balding left Ranch Hand in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot at the confirmation stage as a precaution.
“All things are a possible. We’re going to take a view on the ground, but the intention is to run at York,” he added.
William Haggas would not be surprised if Roberto Escobarr took a hand in the finish, following his first run for 262 days at Ascot last month.
The four-year-old won over the course last season and later was sixth to Pyledriver in the Great Voltigeur Stakes.
“He’s the lowest rated in the race but he’s definitely got more to offer,” said Haggas.
“He should enjoy the trip and the ground. He got stuck in the mud last time.”
The Ed Dunlop-trained Red Verdon won over the course and distance last summer – and David O’Meara’s Makawee completes the four-runner field.