York Ebor Meeting: Day 1 Preview, Trends, Tips
York's four day Ebor meeting gets underway on Wednesday afternoon, and boasts maybe the race of the week as its feature, when Derby winner Australia takes on a small but select field in the Juddmonte International.
But, before that, we'll be half way through the placepot, the first leg of which is the...
1.55 SYMPHONY GROUP STAKES (Handicap) (CLASS 2)
A twenty runner five furlong sprint announces the arrival of Ebor week, and it's been a fairly punter-friendly heat despite the volume of entries. Indeed, three of the five winners were priced at 9/1 or less, and all five were 16/1 or shorter.
Middle to high draws normally have the best of it, and this year the guts of the pace is drawn middle to high too. In the highest stalls, Caspian Price (drawn 19) and Judge N'Jury (18) are perennial trailblazers. Goldream (16) and See The Sun (20) also have bags of toe, so it looks as though the high drawn brigade will be tearing it up from the gun.
They won't have it all their own way, however, in a race dripping with early speed. On the low side, B Fifty Two, Ashpan Sam and Magical Macey all go from the front; and down the middle Bogart and Peterkin will be visible early doors too.
That all adds up to a potential pace collapse, so I'm looking for a horse that can rate its energy slightly more evenly, and hopefully keep on running (a la Forrest Gump) through knackered nags.
Some of those that fit the bill include Move In Time, Goldream, Mass Rally and Racy.
Move In Time is trained by David O'Meara, and the in-form local handler will be looking to get off to a flyer. He was a head second to Goldream eleven days ago, and can reverse form with that one under the revised terms. In truth, the one pound turnaround may be neither here nor there, but the different pace set up should suit O'Meara's horse best.
Clearly, it's hard to discount Goldream on that form, if he can keep something back for the final furlong.
Maybe the pick of the each way possibles is Racy. Brian Ellison's seven year old was second in this race in 2011, and is as good as ever this term, judged on the winning form of his penultimate start, in a big field at Ascot. He is a habitual slow starter, but they may be a help rather than a hindrance with so many eager to shoot their bolts across the course.
A draw in fourteen could be perfect, with bags of speed left and right, and he'll get a fantastic tow into the race if he can just keep tabs on the trail blazers. He is running off a career high mark (101) here, but this extended five furlongs gives him an extra 89 yards to get his nose in front.
Mass Rally is another late, late runner for whom the pace profile fits. He's a tough horse to win with, as pretty much all hold up types are, but has oodles of talent, as he showed when second in this race in 2012.
It's a very very tough start to the meeting, and I'll be trying to achieve no more than placepot survival. To that end, I'll be using Move In Time, Goldream, Racy and Mass Rally... and probably a couple of others besides.
2.30 TATTERSALLS ACOMB STAKES (Group 3) (CLASS 1) (2yo)
A seven furlong Group 3 for two year olds is up next, and a dozen are scheduled to greet the starter. There are some hugely promising babies lining up, including Richard Hannon's Basateen, Brian Meehan's Growl, Kevin Ryan's Salateen (watch your bets!), and Aiden O'Brien's Jamaica.
O'Brien's record in the race is disappointing. After winning in both 1997 and 2000, he's now saddled eight straight losers, including horses priced 2/1 twice, 11/4, and 7/2 twice. Jamaica was an easy three length winner of a Galway maiden, but it would be surprising if that form stacked up favourably against some of the other past performances on display this day.
Basateen, for instance, was eight lengths and more too good for a twelve-strong field in a Class 3 maiden at Donny on good ground. That's almost certainly the best form on show, and if he can make a reasonable step forward from that, he's the probable winner.
Growl is a once raced winner from the Meehan yard. That stable's runners typically need their first outing, so the fact he was an easy winner attests to a likelihood of plenty more to come. That was a Class 2 maiden, no less, and the third has won since from three horses to race subsequently (the other two were placed). One other pointer: Brian Meehan has won this twice in the last six renewals.
Salateen won round Chester's tight turns in a distance good to soft maiden, and that set up is too far removed from this one for me to prefer his chance to those of the Hannon and Meehan runners.
A very interesting race, but it's Basateen for me, from Growl.
3.05 GREAT VOLTIGEUR STAKES (Group 2)
This mile and a half Group 2 is the pre-eminent trial for the St Leger, and there are some strong contenders for the final Classic in the field.
The obvious form choice is Kingston Hill. Roger Varian's Mastercraftsman colt was second to Australia in the Derby before finishing an arguably even more impressive fourth over an inadequate trip and against older horses in the Coral-Eclipse. Both of those Group 1 efforts, and his Group 1 win in the Racing Post Trophy, are considerably better than his rivals can boast - so far - and he looks a very likely winner.
Of the rest, Snow Sky was impressive in quickening clear of his rivals - including re-opposing Observational - in the Gordon Stakes, another St Leger trial. It looked a muddling race, and the acceleration Sir Michael Stoute's charge showed to bound past his field was impressive. Still available at 14/1 for the Leger, that price looks too big, and I think he's the main danger to Kingston Hill.
Observational, for his part, was disappointing in the Gordon, having been bothered on the front. It is possible that he didn't give his running there and, on his previous beating of Marzocco in the Listed Cocked Hat Stakes, he could bounce back at a big price.
The likes of Postponed and Granddukeoftuscany are capable of more, but they'll need a good amount more to trouble Kingston Hill. He looks value even at 6/4, to my eye, and I've had a lumpy (for me) three figure bet.
3.40 JUDDMONTE INTERNATIONAL STAKES (British Champions Series) (Group 1)
A cracking race, despite just the six runners. Dual Derby winner Australia crosses swords with Irish Derby second, Kingfisher, and Derby fourth, Arod, as well as French Derby winner, The Grey Gatsby. And that's just the three year olds. Lob in Eclipse winner, Mukhadram, and Sir Michael Stoute's still improving Telescope, and we have a classy scrap on our hands.
The three year olds don't have a fantastic record in the race, but then again they don't run as often as they probably ought to, given the juicy weight for age allowance they receive from their elders. Telescope (123) and Mukhadram (122) are basically rated the same as Australia (123), and yet they concede eight pounds to the youngsters.
On form then, Australia - himself four pounds clear of The Grey Gatsby - is best in at the weights, if you believe that in Group class events there should be no - or very little - weight for age apportioned in the second half of the season. I do, as you can probably guess from the specific and convoluted previous sentence.
Australia was a good winner of the Derby, and it's my view - and that of plenty of keener judges - that he'll be better suited to this ten furlong range than the mile and a half he prevailed over in both the Epsom and Curragh Derby's.
That latter event was a nothing race, as proven by the silver medal being awarded to pacemaker, Kingfisher. He's surely in here to perform the same water-carrying task, one which may be unnecessary with the presence of Mukhadram anyway.
Either way, they should set things up for at least a moderately satisfactory gallop. And, with Telescope and The Grey Gatsby also liking to be prominent, the game of bluff and double bluff in the straight should be fascinating.
Here's the rub: the most likely winner is Australia, of that there can be little doubt. He's a dual Derby winner after all, and promises to be better at this trip. The state of the turf will be perfect, and he gets weight for age from his two closest market rivals.
But I've backed something else. Specifically, I've backed The Grey Gatsby, each way, at 14/1. I think the fact he's been running in France has allowed his high class form to slip under the radar somewhat.
Last seen in Britain winning the Group 2 Dante Stakes over course and distance - Arod a keeping on second - he has since won the French Derby over about 130 yards further than this, on good ground. That was a field of sixteen, and he won by three lengths when not having a totally clear passage. The third horse there, Prince Gibraltar, finished a short neck second in the Grand Prix de Paris - a very strong Group 1 - next time out, giving the form a reasonably solid look.
The Grey Gatsby himself didn't stay in the very soft ground and over an extra furlong in that Parisian G1 but, dropped back in trip and on terra firmer, he can give Australia plenty to think about. He's a locally trained horse and he looks quite likely to go off a bit shorter than his current quote of 14/1.
Mukhadram is a talented horse, but he stole the Eclipse, and will not be given so much rope here. Telescope is a good and progressive horse, but he finishes second an awful lot. True, second to Australia here would push TGG out of the frame, but I'd sooner take 14's than 6's against the jolly; and anyway, Telescope has lost three of the four races he's run over this trip, all in Group 3 company.
Arod has been beaten by TGG, and he's been beaten by Australia. He was impressive in an egg-and-spoon race last time, but this ain't no egg and spoon race.
Australia to beat The Grey Gatsby looks a good play if you can get an early price on that exacta, or take a chance on TGG to double up on the Knavesmire, at 14/1 each way.
4.20 Class 2 Handicap
Seventeen runners over two miles and a few yards, and it's 7/1 the field. I'm looking for proven stamina, and a well handicapped horse, and my shortlist is comprised of Statutory, Eagle Rock, and the wild card Spacious Sky.
Statutory has top weight, but is actually three pounds lower than his last winning mark, recorded when trouncing a Class 3 field by fourteen lengths over two and a quarter miles last October. He's been running over shorter in the main since, with the exception being when patently failing to stay in the two and three quarter mile Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot.
The key to Statutory could be the pace, and I'd not want to see him gunned for the lead as he can be. He doesn't need to be positioned that way, and hopefully Andrea Atzeni will track and pounce. If he does, then 14/1 could look quite generous, though it's true that Saeed bin Suroor's Authorized gelding has shown little this season so far.
Eagle Rock probably will go on, and he's been effective in that capacity, including when winning over this course and distance twice last year. This is a step up in class, but he's earned that with further progression this term. 18/1 is tempting, despite the reservation about the grade..
And that Irish shrewdie, Tony Martin, saddles the feather weighted Spacious Sky. Last seen on the level when running fourth of twenty to stable mate, Quick Jack, jockey Miss M O'Sullivan has been replaced here by track specialist, Kieren Fallon. With all due respect to Miss M O'Sullivan, I suspect the horse will benefit from a slightly stronger effort than it did then. In fairness to Miss M O'Sullivan, the horse would be getting a stronger ride than it did then, almost regardless of who was steering the last day.
As ever, there are heaps of others with chances, but I'll chance Statutory, Eagle Rock and Spacious Sky against them.
4.55 Class 2 Nursery
Yikes. Keep some placepot powder dry for this last leg, won't you? It's a twenty runner two year old handicap and, depending on how things pan out, you could throw ten darts and not have one placed. I've had some good looking payouts wilt west in this contest in recent times (most notably when Mary's Daughter won at 33/1 in 2012 - Mrs Matt is Mary's daughter!), and I'm not looking forward to the challenge, I can tell you.
Still, faint heart and all that.
I'm not offering a win or each way suggestion, for what I trust are obvious reasons, but I'll be looking to these for placepot purposes: Izzthatright (seemingly improved considerably when romping away with a Ponty nursery last week), Prize Exhibit (experienced, and a nine length winner last time), Roossey (Willie Haggas, say no more), Denzille Lane (form working out well, battled hardened), Felix Leiter (form working out well, progressive), and Mattmu (well, it's called Matt, isn't it? Listen, don't laugh, it has come to this!)
If I get the superfecta up from that list, trust me, it will have been a fluke. And if none are sighted in the top ten, I won't be surprised, and nor should you be. Seriously, the first and last races on this card are lunatic asylum jobs if you think you've got a strong view...
And, on that note, the very best of luck with your day one wagers!