After a decent week of racing in Chester, the lead up to The Derby continues on York this week when the three-day Dante Meeting takes place, one of the meetings which always throws out clues for the big races for the remainder of the season.
This isn’t a meeting which starts slowly and then builds up as the highlight of the opening day is the Musidora Stakes. There aren’t many runners in that so we’re focusing our attention on the two races which precede it.
Typically of Dante week at York, there’s always going to be a big handicap to get stuck into & this year is no different. The second race on the card sees a maximum field of 22 for this 6 furlong charge down the straight course for horses rated up to & including 105. As expected, it looks a very open heat with Nomadic Empire the current 6/1 favourite. It’s worth saying that the draw could easily play a part here with low numbers often favoured & that is probably strengthened by the fact most of the pace is drawn in single figures too. Nomadic Empire comes out of stall 6 & has been running really well, especially here where he’s finished 1-4 on his last 2 runs last autumn. With a good reappearance run behind him, he holds definite claims. Bergerac is from the Kevin Ryan & form figures of 3-3-2 so far this year give him every chance & whilst he’ll enjoy being back at York, a slight nudge up in mark combined with an average to poor draw isn’t compelling. Aberama Gold has been well backed & is 100+ rated at his best but hasn’t shown much for 12 months and now runs off a lowly mark of 88. If recent wind surgery sparks an improvement, and that’s a big if, he could easily blow this lot away.
At double figures, I’ll side with Mr Wagyu who is a regular in these big field handicaps & has some really good form at York. He handles his racing well & has run 18 times in the last 12 months with form in field sizes of 18+ runners reading 1-2-1-0-3-6-8. Having started last term off a mark of 70, he showed much improvement throughout the year and after winning 5 races including the Stewards Sprint, he was raised to a career high of 99. Even then, he showed good form off his revised rating when 6th in the Portland over a trip short of his best, 3rd in the Ayr Gold Cup & 6th in the Coral Sprint Trophy over course & distance. His form at York includes 2 wins from 6 races here, with his form last year in 4 runs reading 1-2-4-6. It is worth noting that he finished behind Nomadic Empire on his last 2 starts at the track but is 4lbs better off for the first run when our selection wasn’t suited by the smaller field & is 3lbs better off for his run in the Coral Sprint Trophy when our selection was snatched up inside the final furlong. Whilst he wouldn’t have won, he almost certainly would have finished ahead of today’s favourite so is definitely weighted to reverse the form today. He’s also had a pipeopener this term, reappearing in a Heritage handicap on 2000 Guineas & finished a creditable 8th of 19 despite running away from the main bunch for much of the race. It’s worth noting the strength of that race with 7 of the runners rated 100+ and even more interesting, of those to finish in front of our selection, only 2 of those hadn’t had a prep run & they were the classy & progressive winner Blackroad & the early favourite for the race First Folio. This is his time of the year & assuming normal progressive from his first run this term back at his favourite track, he should be right in the thick of it.
Back Mr Wagyu (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 12.00 William Hill BOG (⅕ odds 1-6)
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Whilst the highlight of Day 1, the Musidora, has attracted a field of just 5, we do have a decent Group 2 race to get stuck into over 6 furlongs in the shape of the Duke Of York. According to the bookies, it’s a 2 horse race with either Dragon Symbol or Minzaal going off favourite. The former was ultra consistent last year and after winning his only start on turf in 8 runs, a conditions event at Hamilton, he went on to finish second 4 times on the spin in a pair of Group 1’s & a pair of Group 2’s. In fact, in the Commonwealth Cup at Ascot, he was first past the post but ended up being placed 2nd due to interference. He’s moved yards over the winter from Archie Watson to Roger Varian & he must surely go close in this company but he’s not been seen since October so there are some question marks over his fitness. Minzaal won the Gimcrack here as a 2 year old but has been lightly raced since, not seeing the track until October last time. He then ran twice in quick succession finishing 2nd in a Listed event & then an excellent 3rd in the Group 1 Qipco Champions where he had 3 of these in behind. Again, the concern is whether he’s ready to strike first time up.
One with no question marks over fitness is Garrus & he gets my vote here. He’s more exposed than the front pair but has a solid won & place record, winning 6 and finished 2nd 4 times in 21 career starts. In his 3 year old career, he ran solely at the minimum trip before missing the following year in its entirety. Last year, however, after 3 starts at 5 furlongs, he was stepped up in trip & perhaps showed his best form finishing 5th of 12 in the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot, a creditable 8th of 19 in the July Cup before winning a Group 3 in fine style over in France. He was 4th on reappearance in a Listed race at Doncaster when losing his position, finishing well but overall not having the clearest of runs & then again lost his position at Newmarket in the Group 3 Abernant Stakes before flying home, looking the most likely winner but losing out on the bob. First time blinkers should help & he has the assistance of the in form Ryan Moore aboard. With his yard in top form operating at a 32% strike rate in the last 14 days from 25 runners, and with fitness assured, he should be involved in the finish despite having a bit to find on the form book.
Back Garrus (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 11.00 William Hill BOG (⅕ odds 1-4)
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