Day 1 of York's Ebor meeting features the flat race of the season so far, the Juddmonte International. A stellar cast which includes a dual Guineas winner, a Derby and Eclipse winner, an Irish Champion Stakes winner, an Australian Group 1 winner, and a fast improving Royal Ascot winner, promises fireworks aplenty.
As well as that fabulous Group 1, we are treated to a supporting card that includes an established St Leger trial and a solid juvenile Group 3. We start with a big field of sprinters in the...
Twenty reputably rapid racers will charge down the straight track for a stride or three beyond five furlongs, and it will be a braver/more foolhardy player than me who goes 'all in' here.
Pace is fairly proportioned across the piste with perennial trailblazers Tangerine Trees (20) and Midlander (2) almost bookending the field. Meanwhile, in the centre of the course, another frequent early flyer, Meadway bounds from stall eight. In other words, wherever your fancy is drawn, there should be some toe to track.
Although it won't do a lot to whittle the field, it is worth noting that in the only year (from six) that a Northern-based trainer didn't win this race, they finished second, third and fourth. Locals will be expecting to bag the swag.
Kevin Ryan has spoken of this five and a half furlong range being a 'specialists' trip', and he should know having taken the last two renewals. He saddles 2013 winner (and last year's sixth), Bogart, and in-form Distant Past. Drawn very high and very low, Team Ryan will have a squeak whichever side is favoured.
With rain on the eve of the Ebor meeting, the going has eased to good to soft or thereabouts, and it will make the trip a touch more testing. The low drawn Distant Past may then have the edge on his older stable mate, with the springier turf a plus.
Huntsmans Close and Dutch Masterpiece vie for market leadership, but I'm far from convinced the former wants this shorter trip, despite an excellent run in the Stewards' Cup last time off the same rating. Conversely, Dutch Masterpiece has been running as though an extended five is perfect; for him, though, the middling draw is marginally off-putting.
There are stacks in here with legitimate claims, as 10/1 the field attests, and my two pokes in the murk are Silvanus and Caspian Prince. It is easier to make a case for Silvanus than the Prince, this fellow arriving on a hat-trick after going away wins over the minimum. He's got a decent enough draw in seven, and acts fine on the soft side of good.
Paul Midgley's team of sprinters have been in bobbydazzling form this season so 16/1 on this old buzzard appeals to small beer, especially with Graham Lee keeping the ride.
Caspian Prince requires a leap of faith, but in an open race and at 33/1, it's permissible to attempt such a lunge. A speedster drawn five, he has been running well in Group company, and his Class 2 handicap form reads 00321626005. That recent '5' was in the hyper-competitive Rockingham Handicap in a field of 21, and he could outrun his odds for an in-form trainer with a very good long term York record.
Fourteen more that I haven't mentioned with varying degrees of credible cases to be made, but I'll roll the dice with a pair of big'uns in Silvanus 16/1 e/w and Caspian Prince 33/1 e/w.
Hills, Betfair and Racebets are all paying five places, and the exchange sportsbook are joint-top price on both, if you can get a bet on with them.
When the hurly burly of that first race is done, we'll face up to an altogether different puzzle as ten promising babies look for some stallion appeal in this Group 3 seven furlong heat.
Nine of the ten won last time, but the one that didn't, Adventurer, holds solid claims. Fourth at Goodwood to Shalaa - this season's top juvenile to date - he was said to have been ill at ease on the Sussex (ups and) Downs and yet ran a fast time in defeat. The Mark Johnston team circle in and out of form on an almost weekly basis and this week they look to be in good shape.
Those with a single prior seven furlong win have an impressive 24% win and 46% place strike rate since 1997, and that is a tick for seven of the field which, unfortunately, means it is not of much utility to us. To the form book then, such as it is at this fledgling stage in these fellows' careers.
Mohab was incredibly impressive when hacking up by eight lengths in what may, granted, have been a weak Catterick maiden. Still, he was a good third on his only previous start, over course and distance, and his trainer, Kevin Ryan, won this in 2005.
The form of David Barron's Bing Bang Bong has worked out well, his initial bronze medal race throwing up three subsequent winners so far, and his win last time already franked by the second and the sixth. That was a soft ground Newmarket maiden where he was three lengths and more too good, so any further rain would be to his liking.
When are John Gosden's horses not to be respected? That, of course, is a rhetorical question, as the answer, as you very well know, is 'never'. Cymric was sufficiently highly regarded to début in the Listed Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot and, while that was too much too soon, he got the job done on his sole subsequent spin, in a race where the fourth and eighth have won since from just three to race again.
Similarly unnecessary is a response to the question, "when does Willie Haggas run a horse at York without a chance?". He's hit a fine streak of form in... well, he's actually got a 25% win rate over the last six months, so at least that long! Recorder flies the ex-pat Yorkshireman's flag in the Acomb, and the Galileo colt does it for Her Maj.
It was a soft seven when he got home last time, and it may not be too different underhoof this time. The third and fourth were both huge prices there, but both have gone on to win their sole starts since, giving the form a robust appearance.
Dream Mover has taken plenty of support in the early exchanges, with Marco Botti's colt clearly expected to improve for the step up to seven furlongs. He's proven with give but looks to have plenty more to find to test the best here. Naturally, as with every other in the field, he could bound forwards but I like the chance of others more. Not a lot more, mind, in a very open heat.
Recorder and Adventurer, and possibly Mohab as well, make my placepot perms. I do not have to have a win or each way bet, and will be exercising that right on this occasion. Unless you have a strong view, it might be prudent to follow suit.
A race with a rich heritage, both in terms of identifying St Leger winners, and high class older horses. The latter point is emphasized by the last two winners, Telescope and Postponed, who both went on to at least place in Group 1 company, Postponed claiming last month's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.
This year's field boasts the usual array of late-blooming Classic crop stayers, testament to which is the fact that Derby 4th and Irish Derby 3rd, Giovanni Canaletto, is only 8/1 FIFTH favourite in a field of seven.
He finished a place behind the re-opposing Storm The Stars in both Classics, and that one went on to a hat-trick of 'Derby' places by adding third in the (to some) French equivalent, the Grand Prix de Paris, a race threatening to usurp the Prix du Jockey Club's historical status.
There ought to be little between them again, which makes the gulf in odds - STS is 7/2, GC is 8/1 - somewhat mystifying, particularly in light of the hard season the shorter-priced has had.
Whether Giovanni Canaletto is the pick of three runners from his Ballydoyle stable is another question. The other pair, Aloft and Bondi Beach, have both been showing their talents over longer trips than this mile and a half, and have advertised their St Leger claims in the process.
Aloft won the two mile Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot, a weak enough race normally; and he took fourteen and a half of the sixteen furlongs to get to the front that day. Of course, he could have arrived sooner, but whether he has the pace to live with Derby placed animals I don't know.
Similar comments apply to the similarly unexposed Bondi Beach. Unraced last year, he kicked off his career with a facile short head win over odds-on stablemate, Bantry Bay, in a mile and a half heavy ground maiden. Stepped up to Listed class next time over the same distance, he couldn't quite reel in Radanpour.
An extra quarter mile put that right in the Group 3 Curragh Cup last time out, a race in which he just prevailed. He seems to do little more than is asked and is clearly a fine talent so, with the ground presumed in his favour and only three runs on the board, he could step forward a fair bit. Trainer's son, Joseph O'Brien, takes the ride on a live one.
Tashaar, unbeaten in two, steps out of handicap company having absolutely scooted up at Glorious Goodwood last time. Whilst this is undoubtedly tougher he could not have won more readily there, and he's quite attractive at 9/2. Sometimes the visual impression of a race is striking, this being one such occasion, so while I can't put a heap of meat on the bones of his case, especially given he's taking on hardened Group horses, I like him.
To a lesser degree, I like Balios, a horse that is already a mile and a half Group 2 winner, too. He took a retrograde step last time, but retains plenty of scope after just four career starts.
And one I think is over-priced, perhaps because I've backed him for the Leger, is Medrano. His run in the Gordon Stakes at Glorious Goodwood was all wrong: sitting out the back off pedestrian fractions, he was never put into the contest. Prior to that he'd bolted up on soft ground in a Listed race, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he ran into the frame. 14/1 probably understates his ability, though I'd again worry about the pace.
Storm The Stars will presumably cut out the donkey work, with Gio Can tracking. But the rest all want to sit and wait, so there's a chance the rabbit could nab it. A messy old heat.
Such was the eye-catching nature of Tashaar's win last time, and such is his upward trajectory, I've had a smallish bet on him at 9/2. Plenty of others with interesting profiles not least of which is Medrano but seven runners does not normally a compelling each way bet make.
What a race. What. A. Race.*
*assuming Gleneagles runs...
You know you're looking at a hot contest when a Group 1 winner just three starts back, running over his right trip and ground, is quoted at 40/1. That's the case here with a horse called Criterion, who may have it to do to come home in front but is surely available at heavily inflated odds.
Sadly, it looks like the rain will scupper Gleneagles' participation and, if it does, reduce the race to seven runners. With an odds on favourite, that removes a LOT of the betting appeal of the contest and bookies have their work cut out to get creative. As is often the case in such races, the 'without the fav' market is playable, and we'll come to that in due course.
First, to the cast. With or without dual Guineas (and quadruple Group 1) winner, Gleneagles, this is the equine equivalent of a WWE Royal Rumble.
Golden Horn is the headliner, being an unbeaten Derby and Eclipse winner. Those two wins came on good to firm, and his course and distance Dante win was on good. He did win his maiden on good to soft, but it is far from a given that he'll act on soft. So, at 4/6, and a lot shorter if Gleneagles comes out, he's got to be taken on somehow.
The doubtful runner must have his chance compromised to some degree even if he does start, and at a drifting 5/1 he's thoroughly opposable for me, stretching out to an extended ten furlongs for the first time.
If those are genuine nicks in the prospects of the top two - as opposed to artificially imagined reasons to oppose - then we have ourselves a punting proposition.
The highly impressive Time Test is a 1/2 shot without the front two in the market, and Roger Charlton, his trainer, is bullish about his chance in a race that his owner sponsors and has won twice in the last four years. This son of Dubawi at least has some soft ground influences in his pedigree (out of a Dansili mare) and hosed up in his maiden on good to soft, a race which is working out extremely well.
The flip side is that his most recent win, and the one on which his aptitude for this assignment is based, has not worked out. The third horse, Mustadeem, has been tonked twice since; fourth placed Disegno looked no better than Listed class when six-plus length back in the G3 Gordon Stakes; and the sixth and seventh have been beaten out of the frame in two subsequent starts each.
Indeed, of the eight subsequent runs from the Tercentenary Stakes field, they have managed no more than two places. That's not Time Test's fault. He was mightily impressive. But it does cast a shadow over the merit of what he beat that day and, in the context of a race like this, it's enough to look elsewhere, especially when there are two Group 1 winners still to consider.
The first is the admirable The Grey Gatsby, winner of the 2014 Dante and second in this race last year. He's a dual Group 1 winner at this trip and though he has to concede eight pounds weight for age to the three-year-olds, the frame is more probable than possible to my eye. I would be worried about the ground for him if it comes up soft, but on good to soft he should be able to run his race and that means hitting the first three.
The other is the aforementioned Criterion, a southern hemisphere raider who has 'wintered' in our summer... if you see what I mean. He won a Group 1 in Australia over this trip on soft ground three starts back. That race was worth £1.3 million! All his wins have come on good or softer, and he has run with great credit in two races since that G1 victory, the third of his career (all on soft or heavy).
On his penultimate start, on unsuitable good to firm ground, Criterion was a close up third in a million pound Group 1 race in Hong Kong. Then, last time, he ran at Royal Ascot, again on unsuitable good to firm ground, in the Group 1 Prince Of Wales's Stakes. The jockey, Chad Schofield, was easy enough on him there, and he comes here a fresh horse after a two month break.
I'm not suggesting he is the most likely winner, nor even that he can win at all. But at 40/1, or 22/1 without Golden Horn (two places paid), or 12/1 without Golden Horn and Gleneagles (two places paid), he's more attractive than many given he is more likely to get the conditions he wants than many.
I've backed Criterion at 12/1, each way two places, without Golden Horn and Gleneagles. Prices are unaffected whether Gleneagles runs or not, as he - and Golden Horn - are essentially non-runners. I also like The Grey Gatsby's proven ability at 12/5 in the same market, where the upwardly mobile Time Test makes the book at two's on. These markets are all with bet365 only at time of writing.
A very good, ultra-competitive handicap over an extended two miles. It'll take some getting, with York's interminable home straight offering the prospect of a heavy ground Hexham lookalike finish.
I'm without clue in the main here, but Gabrial's Star looks the sort to bounce back to form with a bit of cut in the turf. His three turf wins have all been on soft, at between twelve and fourteen furlongs, and he was second in a good Wolverhampton handicap over this distance in February. Decent apprentice, Jack Garrity, knocks three pounds off Gabrial's Star's back.
At 20/1 he's no more than a stab in the dark in a fiendish race.
The other I was mildly drawn to is Lucy Wadham's Noble Silk. A good horse trained by a good trainer, this lad ran a cracker when fourth in the Ascot Stakes at Royal Ascot. That was over two and a half miles so there are no stamina concerns, though the ground wouldn't want to go too boggy.
As always in the Festival handicaps, there are oodles of others with chances, including the Tony Martin plot, Heartbreak City, and the latest formerly smart beast to be rejuvenated for a switch to David O'Meara, Big Thunder.
On a day of penny punt interests (Juddmonte 'without' bets aside), I'm happy to side with the italicised pair above, each way at 20/1 GS and 11/1 NS, and much more in hope than expectation.
If you're still going on the placepot, you've probably done very well, but your toughest assignment remains. A twenty runner nursery handicap is as close to impossible as doesn't matter!
Here's what I can tell you:
Ravenhoe has the top speed rating but ran last night.
Reputation, first time in a handicap for John Quinn, has the next top rating and masses of scope. John Quinn is only 3-38 with handicap debutants in the last two years.
Shawaahid has won twice with cut in the ground, and stays further, a probable asset in what should be a very fast race for the conditions.
Sir Roger Moore looks like the plot for his in form yard: considered good enough to run in a Group 2 on his second start, and third over course and distance in a Class 3 maiden earlier in the year. He could raise a few eyebrows if winning. (Geddit?!)
Dark Defender is probably better than he showed last time and, while having less scope than some, looks fairy reliable.
Pace might just favour high draws, which points more towards Shawaahid than most, and he's a tentative each way selection at a general 14/1.
The very best of luck with your Day 1 York bets. It's a fascinating card with the prospect of a magnificent race at 3.40. But, from a wagering perspective, it is waaay too hard. Save some money for Jinsha Lake in the 7.50 at Killarney 😉