Day Two of the York May meeting is headlined by the pre-eminent Epsom Derby trial, the Dante Stakes. This year, the first three in the betting for the Blue Riband go head to head (to head) in the Dante Stakes, so we are bound to see some serious shaking up in the ante-post Derby betting subsequently.
(Last year's Derby winner, Workforce, became the first horse beaten in the Dante to go on to win the Derby. He was beaten by Cape Blanco, who himself went on to win the Irish Derby).
That trio of Derby fancies lining up this afternoon are Seville, Carlton House and World Domination, representing the powerful yards of Aidan O'Brien, Sir Michael Stoute and 'Sir' Henry Cecil and owners Michael Tabor/John Magnier, Her Majesty The Queen, and Prince Khalid Abdullah respectively.
And what of their chances? Well, as ever with Derby trials, there are plenty of imponderables. All horses will have been lightly raced, all expected to improve this time, and all are likely to have something left to work on between now and Derby day. With that in mind, betting is tricky. But let's consider the merits of this trio, as well as anything lurking in the rest of the field that might have a chance.
The form pick is Seville, who was last seen at the end of last season running up to Casamento in the Racing Post Trophy. That form has worked out quite well, despite the 'too bad to be true' run of the RP Trophy winner in the 2000 Guineas. Native Khan, who was fourth in the Trophy, subsequently won the Craven Stakes before a gallant third in the 2000 Guineas.
Master Of Hounds, third in the Trophy, finished a staying on fifth in the Kentucky Derby last weekend. Dunboyne Express, fifth in the Racing Post Trophy, won the 2000 Guineas Trial, a Group 3, on his only subsequent run.
Even ninth placed Dubawi Gold won two Listed races on the all weather before a superb second spot in the 2000 Guineas behind 'the beast' Frankel.
What I'm trying to say is that the form of Seville's second placing in the Racing Post Trophy is far and away the best public form in the race.
Against him are two, presumably, rapidly improving types who are handled by masters of their craft. Between Sir Michael and 'Sir' Henry, they've amassed nine Derby's, with Stoute just edging it 5-4. In fact, Stoute has the best recent record, having won three Derby's since 2003 (Kris Kin, North Light and last year's with Workforce).
'Sir' Henry last bagged the Blue Riband back in 1999, when Kieran Fallon booted home Oath. Both are obviously to be respected in the context of this race. In fact, the scoreline for the Dante Stakes is 6-5 to 'Sir' Henry, albeit that his last winner in the race was Tenby way back in 1993.
So that's the history lesson, but what of the two equines they send to post today? World Domination has had just the one run this season, when carting up in a warm looking Newbury maiden. Only three horses have come out since, with third placed Reflect scrambling home by a neck in a Salisbury maiden and two down the field runners, Sirius Superstar and Camporosso, finding the frame (the latter from two starts).
World Domination will clearly improve for the run and connections are obviously extremely hopeful. They did however have Arizona Jewel flop badly yesterday.
Carlton House is bidding to give The Queen her first Derby winner since, well ever so far as I can tell. (Leave a comment if this is wrong!). Carlton House is a son of teak tough US dirt horse, Street Cry, who won at up to a mile and quarter, today's race distance. He's out of a Bustino mare so there's stamina on the dam's side too, which gives hope that he'll stay the Derby trip though I'm not certain of that. Any dosage fans out there care to take a look at the four generation view? 😉
What about the form? Carlton House was second on debut in a race that hasn't worked out terribly well (two winners from 21 subsequent starters), before decisively crushing a large field by nine lengths in a Newbury maiden. That was on good to soft, and his debut was on soft, and he may well improve for faster ground.
That second run has worked out better, with four subsequent winners from the top ten in that race, including Yaseer, who reopposes today.
Of the rest, Yaseer was then beaten by Native Khan, which gives him plenty to find with both Carlton House and Seville; Pisco Sour is exposed and not good enough; and Ashva was beaten in a Class 3 handicap last time (say no more).
It's Seville for me, as long as he's fit enough on debut. He is a clear form pick and the improvers will need to find something like two stone even if Seville hasn't himself improved, which he probably has. That's possible of course, as they are both less exposed than the selection...
I shall be there this afternoon to cheer Night Orbit in the last, but the card kicks off three and a quarter hours earlier, at 1.30, with an impossible sprint over five furlongs. The three winners of this race were priced at 11/1, 16/1 and 33/1, so I'll take a speculative chance on something at a price.
Five furlongs on good ground looks ideal for Judge 'N Jury, and his York record (5th in this last year, 2nd of 20 here since) means he could be thereabouts. On the minus side, he hasn't won since 2009 and may be slowing up at the age of seven. Nevertheless, he's a (well backed) 16/1 shot today, and might run well.
In the 2.00, the Middleton Stakes (Group 2), we've a treat with top mares Midday, Music Show and Timepiece heading the field. Midday is undeniable the best of these, but... she hasn't won on her first start in any of her three racing seasons, and she will certainly be geared at bigger contests later in the season. On that basis, I think there's value to be had opposing her at around evens.
Timepiece is another who has taken a run (or three) to get match fit in her two racing seasons, and in a warm race the one I'd side with each way is Music Show. She deservedly won her Group 1 last season in the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket's July meeting, having been unlucky in the 1000 Guineas (drawn on the wrong side) and third in the Irish equivalent.
I don't believe Music Show is a better mare than Midday, or even than Timepiece necessarily, but she will be fit to fight today, having had a seasonal debut in the Sandown Mile, another Group 2, against the boys. The reservation with her is the trip, as this is the first time she'll have stretched out beyond a mile and the extra quarter mile may be too far for her.
At a bigger price, Nouriya appeals a little too. She was on the up and up last season and a run against the boys last time will have got her to concert pitch for this afternoon. Her trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, has won this race three times in the last eight years, and he is a whizz at improving older horses. She may well run better than odds of 16/1 suggest.
My Dante thoughts have been shared above, and the next race is the Hambleton Stakes, a Listed handicap over a mile, at 3.00. Julia Feilden's Spirit Of Sharjah runs here and, whilst the trip might be a little beyond his optimum seven furlongs, the grade is spot on.
He finished seventh in this last year off a five pound higher mark, and he'll give us a run for small each way wagering.
Taking the Feilden blinkers off, another I like in this contest is last time out winner, Light From Mars. He has Tom Eaves on rather than the brilliant Mickael Barzalona this afternoon and that is a small negative (no offence, Tom), but that was a very solid run and over optimum conditions, he should run well.
It should also go without saying that these massive field handicaps are not my speciality so I won't be betting big and I wouldn't encourage anyone else to take a strong view on what is little more than a token offering.
The 3.35 follows, and this is conditions sprint with an odds on favourite, Night Carnation, bidding to double up after a last time out success. She has a good chance of doing just that, but at 5/6 she doesn't tempt me. We'll get paid three places unless there are two non-runners, so each way is the play.
The second favourite, Margot Did, would have been the one if this race was six furlongs. She's got no five furlong experience and may just find this a bit too quick. Certainly at the price she has a little to prove, though not too much to find if she's as effective at the shorter trip.
Fillies have won both runnings to date of this both sex contest and whilst the two mentioned above are also the fairer sex, the each way tickle for me here is Shoshoni Wind. She's another last time out winner, and might have as much improvement as the favourite. At 11/1, she'll pay more for a place than Night Carnation will to win, and she'll do for me.
the 4.10 is a two year old maiden with lots of unraced babies. I'm following the form of Hamza's race and as such will be having a tiny tickle - each way again - on Art Dzeko, who was well beaten by Hamza the last day. He's a 33/1 chance who will improve for the run. Whether he's (anywhere near) good enough to make the frame remains to be seen.
At the business end of the market, Mick Channon's Noor Zabeel may be the one. Channon has a good handle on the juveniles having saddled Gatepost to the most impressive performance so far from the 'baby brigade' and he'll know where he is with these. Of course, something unraced could easily trump the experienced entries, but I do like the juniors to have the benefit of a run, so Noor Zabeel is the suggestion.
Finally, and most interestingly for me, the 4.45 is a two and a quarter mile handicap, featuring two Feilden inmates, Blackmore and Night Orbit. The latter is part-owned by me, and I've donned my best suit to cheer him home.
He's a tryer, albeit at a moderate level, and he will appreciate the ground, trip and pace of today's race. Greg Fairley again takes the mount, which is another positive and, without meaning to get too excited about his chances, I think he could make the frame. I'd certainly hope that he beats more than beat him but, in a field of eighteen, that won't necessarily reward financial support.
Blackmore is a better horse, with more class. He also has seventeen pounds more in weight to lug here, and I'd be hopeful that we can beat him with the concession. Of course, the Blackmore mob are themselves hopeful of a good run and such is the blinkered manner of horse owners!
With a bit of luck both can make the top six, and with a massive stroke of luck, one of them might win.
Last year's winner, Hollins, is a big danger if he's back to that sort of form; and Hawrdige Star is capable of winning first time out.
Best of luck to you with your Thursday picks, and come on Night Orbit!!!!! 😀