One of my favourite meetings takes place this week, the three day Dante fixture at York (probably because it was the first meeting I attended; if you don't include my local point to point at Flagg Moor!).
Morning Star may have caused a shock at Chester last week but she won't be anywhere near the 50/1 she was when winning the Cheshire Oaks in the Musidora at York on the opening day of the Dante meeting. Mark Johnston's filly handled the soft ground on the Roodee and it seems sensible to turn her out again while we have these conditions.
The ground on the Knavesmire is currently good to soft. I'm not sure she will make it back-to-back wins though and I like the chance of 1000 Guineas fourth The Fugue for John Gosden in this recognised Oaks trial.
There are some doubts about her ability to stay 12 furlongs in the Oaks, but I hope this mile and a quarter will be well within her compass. The Fugue is named after a classical music technique and there are a host of classic fillies in Aidan O'Brien's yard including Twirl.
If all goes well with her at York she could be part of his team for the Oaks which include Guineas winner Maybe and Kissed (incidentally Maybe is expected to improve for her Newmarket win and is 7/2 2nd fav behind 3/1 favourite Kissed for the Epsom classic next month, while Twirl is currently 14s). The Fugue is 10/1 for the Oaks and I hope she stays well and wins this nicely.
The Duke of York is the feature on day one of the meeting and Lee Westwood will be hoping his star sprinter Hoof It can win his first group race. He acquitted himself well in the Nunthorpe and Sprint Cup (both Group 1 races) and this Group 2 looks right up his street.
He goes particularly well at York and seems to handle cut in the ground well enough too, although it's expected he will shine on a faster surface this season.
He has plenty going for him, but his price reflects that (7/2 favourite with Sky Bet). Ryan Moore rides for the first time, taking over from Kieren Fallon (who rides Society Rock).
Mayson is one of his main rivals (4/1) in this six furlong race and he hasn't done much wrong for his in-form trainer Richard Fahey this season. He looks like an improving sprinter who will go for the July Cup if he wins here. He beat Definightly in the Palace House last time out and Roger Charlton is re-opposing with his six-year-old. Mayson has the benefit of a few runs under his belt this season and could well be more tuned-up than some of his rivals. I fancy his chances and hope his low draw isn't an inconvenience.
James Fanshawe will be hoping Golden Jubilee winner Society Rock (7/1) can bounce back to form. He hasn't won since his Royal Ascot success and generally needs a couple of outings to hit peak form. Eve Johnson Houghton runs her Cammidge Trophy winner The Cheka who is 10s with Sky Bet. This will only be his second try at six furlongs after that recent Doncaster win and it will be interesting to see if he has enough pace against these out and out sprinters.
Richard Hannon saddles Libranno and Elnawin (both 16/1 chances). Richard Fahey is the trainer to follow at York and usually takes the training honours nowadays and I hope Mayson can continue his progression and win this for the Musley Bank handler.
Speaking of Richard Fahey, I think he has a few chances on day one including Mica Mika in the mile-and-a-half handicap. I also like the look of Tatlisu in the five furlong Novice Stakes but would be wary of the Richard Hannon-trained Citius who has been favourably mentioned by his jockey Richard Hughes in the run up to this race.
The Dante Stakes on Thursday is usually one of the more solid trials for the Derby and this year's renewal should be no exception.
Bonfire is Sky Bet's 2/1 favourite and I love this colt. Andrew Balding was going to run him at Chester last week, but made the tough decision to bypass the Dee Stakes due to the ground.
He ran an eye-catching (albeit unlucky in running) race in the Criterium International on his final 2 year-old start in France and the form of that race looks good with winner French Fifteen finishing 2nd in the 2000 Guineas this spring. He is a leading contender for the the Epsom Derby and is 10/1 for next month's classic.
Mandaean is 5/2 next best for Mahmood al Zarooni and Mikael Barzalona. He was unbeaten for Andre Fabre last season and won on testing ground too, although the ground at York will hopefully dry out this week (12/1 for Epsom Derby).
Ernest Hemingway needs the ground to improve to take his chance in this for the Ballydoyle team. He is the impressive winner of a Dundalk maiden last month and is 20/1 for the Derby. Ektihaam is 5/1 for this race for Roger Varian and also has the advantage of having won this season. Fencing (7s) already has classic experience under his belt having finished 6th in the Guineas.
I'm sticking with Bonfire here and although a win wouldn't topple Camelot at the top of the Derby market, it would make him a very interesting contender. Camelot is even-money favourite for Epsom.
Also on Thursday Timepiece will be bidding to win the Middleton Stakes again for Sir Henry Cecil who saddled Midday to win the race 12 months ago. This mare was third to her stablemate in last year's contest and although she was beaten favourite on her reappearance at Newmarket she is expected to improve for that outing.
Moving onto the third and final day and Friday's feature is the Yorkshire Cup. I love these types of races and there are some old favourites entered up in this mile-and-three-quarter Group 2.
It looks a potentially high class staying race with Ascot Gold Cup winner Fame and Glory, 2010 Leger winner Arctic Cosmos, Melbourne Cup runner-up Red Cadeaux and Ascot Gold Cup second and Lonsdale Cup winner Opinion Poll amongst the entries.
Be Fabulous is also an interesting contender on her first start for Mahmood Al Zarooni having spent the first part of her career with Andre Fabre (she won the Group 1 Prix Royal-Oak last October).
If the ground dries up that will suit John Dunlop's entry Times Up. It all depends on ground conditions on the day of course, but Red Cadeaux ran a decent race to be second in the Sagaro Stakes earlier this month (run on the all weather at Kempton) and should have improved for that outing and I hope he runs well here before being given a summer break.
Fame and Glory is by far the highest rated in this contest though and he will be very popular if he lines up on Friday (he is also entered in Ireland on Sunday).
Well after that superb week we top if off with the return of the world's greatest racehorse, Frankel, at Newbury on Saturday. He isn't any sort of price to win the Lockinge (1/3 fav) as you would expect and Excelebration is a popular each way selection at 9/4.
Nine horses stand their ground at this stage which gives us a bit more leeway with each-way betting (first three home if there are eight or more runners) but it could well be that less than eight line up when declarations are made.
Back to Frankel though and it is a huge privilege to see the colt on the track this season. The news a month ago regarding his well-being seemed very bleak and I seriously thought we had seen the last of him on a racetrack. Thankfully the knock to his tendon didn't turn out to be as bad as first feared and I hope he remains unbeaten this season, although anything can happen with horses.
The world's second highest rated horse, Black Caviar, has attracted a huge amount of attention in Australia as she continues her record-breaking career and we are lucky enough to be seeing her at Royal Ascot next month.
Commentators in Oz have claimed she is the best horse in the world.....she's not, Frankel is, and it will be well worth getting out to see him in the flesh this season even though we won't get rich backing him. I can't see the 1-2 being anything other than Frankel and Excelebration who finished in that order in the Greenham at this track last year.
Excelebration runs this season for Aidan O'Brien having been with Marco Botti last year. O'Brien says he has strengthened up over the winter and he showed his well being by winning the Gladness Stakes at the Curragh for his new handler last month and although I don't think he'll beat the favourite he won't be miles behind. The distances may be fun to bet on in this race.
Although I think Frankel will win, it may not be by a huge margin and it's worth keeping an eye on Sky Bet's website for special bets nearer the time. I make no apology for going with Frankel to win this, but as I say, the distances may be your most lucrative bet here.
The Fugue in the Musidora Stakes
Mayson in the Duke of York Stakes @ 4/1 with Sky Bet
Bonfire in the Dante Stakes @ 2/1 with Sky Bet
Red Cadeaux in the Yorkshire Cup
Frankel in the Lockinge @ 1/3 with Sky Bet