Washington Heights taking Duke of York challenge next week

Kevin Ryan’s Washington Heights has the 1895 Duke of York Clipper Stakes on his agenda as he bids for more sprint success.

The four-year-old started his season on a high in the Group Three Abernant Stakes at Newmarket last month, securing a three-quarter-length victory over Mill Stream in a field of well-proven sprinters.

The performance built on a productive three-year-old campaign for the gelding, who claimed prize-money far exceeding his £24,000 purchase price when taking the Listed Bro Park Sprint Championship in Sweden and collecting a string of placings in valuable sprint handicaps.

Included was a six-furlong York contest where he was beaten only a head by Stuart Williams’ remarkably consistent Quinault, a run on the Knavesmire that add to his narrowly-beaten effort as a two-year-old behind Shouldvebeenaring in the Goffs UK Harry Beeby Premier Yearling Stakes.

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Those two runs bode well for his next assignment, which will be the Group Two Duke of York over the same course and distance.

“We’ve always liked him and he’s a bigger, stronger horse this year,” Ryan said.

“He came out of Newmarket in great form and is training very well at home.”

Washington Heights is owned by Hambleton Racing and has represented them well throughout his career so far, running 13 times and only finishing out of the money once.

Hambleton’s Simon Turner said: “Kevin has few peers with his sprinters and has brought Washington along with typical skill and patience.

“He took his form to another level in the Abernant and everyone is looking forward to the Duke of York now.

Kevin Ryan's Washington Heights (centre)
Kevin Ryan’s Washington Heights (centre) (Tim Goode/PA)

“To have a horse with a chance in one of the feature races of York’s Dante meeting is a massive thrill for his owners, a good number of who have been owners with Hambleton for 10 years or more.

“Given his good York form we’re optimistic for a big run. He certainly won’t lack for support!”

Michael Dods has two entrants, with Azure Blue and Commanche Falls both possible after finishing first and third last year.

Azure Blue defeated Highfield Princess by half a length, with Commanche Falls a further length and a quarter behind in third.

Azure Blue has been seen just once since when finishing sixth in the July Cup, but after overcoming a few issues she is being prepared to make her seasonal bow back on the Knavesmire.

Azure Blue winning the 1895 Duke Of York Clipper Stakes
Azure Blue winning the 1895 Duke Of York Clipper Stakes (left) (Mike Egerton/PA)

“She had a bit of a setback with her feet and then she had ulcers, which finished her early. She seems fine now,” said Dods.

“Obviously, it’s a long time since she last ran but we’re happy with her.

“Unless we have any problems between now and next week, the plan is to definitely come to York.

“We probably could have done with another few weeks before the race, but it is the right race to set her off in. Whatever she does there, she will come on a lot for the run.

“We’ve been quite easy on her, but she looks great. Paul Mulrennan sat on her yesterday and was pleased with her. She is where we want her to start, but there’s a lot of improvement after the race.”

Of his other runner, Dods added: “Commanche Falls ran well in the race last year. At the moment, he would definitely be running as well.”

Also among the entries is Karl Burke’s Spycatcher, a fine campaigner for Highclere Racing who has been in the money in numerous Group-class sprint contests throughout his career so far.

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Second by three-quarters of a length to Washington Heights in the Abernant, the gelding also has form in the Duke of York as he was second to Highfield Princess in 2022.

“It would very much the plan to run, but he is very ground dependent – we wouldn’t run him on anything faster than good ideally,” said Harry Herbert of Highclere Racing.

“We’d like to see a bit of rain around as I don’t think he would run on faster ground.

“He’s in great form and working so well, we’ll be keeping everything crossed that he will be able to compete because he seems better than ever, which is exciting.”

Burke has three further chances in Swingalong, Marshman and Cold Case, with William Haggas’ Montassib, Tim Easterby’s Art Power and Clive Cox’s Diligent Harry and Jane Chapple-Hyam’s Mill Stream other familiar names on the list.

Sea Just In Time powers clear at Newmarket
Sea Just In Time powers clear at Newmarket (Adam Davy/PA)

Also on day one of the Dante Festival is the Tattersalls Musidora Stakes, which has a rich history of producing serious Classic contenders.

The last two runnings of the 10-furlong Group Three have gone to the John and Thady Gosden yard, and the Clarehaven operation will have another leading player this year in the shape of Pretty Polly winner Friendly Soul.

Haggas, meanwhile, has entered a fascinating filly in the shape of Sea Just In Time, a daughter of Sea The Stars who created a real impression in winning her maiden at the first time of asking at Newmarket.

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