York is one of my favourite racecourses and the Ebor one of the meetings I enjoy most.
A 'few' years ago I sent my Dad to pick up my A-Level results whilst I went to the Knavesmire to watch the racing with my Mum! Needless to say the trip to York was the best education I could have had. I can't remember what subjects I took at school, but I can remember Lyric Fantasy winning the Nunthorpe, and so the story goes.
Let's hope that in 2012 similar fires are ignited and if any first timers head to York on Wednesday they are likely to be spoilt, as the best racehorse they are likely to see in their lifetime struts his stuff.
I'm talking of course about Frankel, who steps up to a mile and a quarter for the first time in his unblemished career in the Juddmonte International Stakes. You won't get rich backing him, he is 1/8 favourite with Sky Bet, but this race isn't about how rich he is going to make us, it's about sheer brilliance, of which you are lucky if you ever get to witness it.
Of course in previewing the race you have to see if Frankel can be beaten. Will the 10 furlong trip stretch his stamina? I don't think so. He is settling much better in his races as a four year-old and Tom Queally knows him like the back of his hand.
Quotes of the week
Of course in previewing the race you have to see if Frankel can be beaten. Will the 10 furlong trip stretch his stamina? I don't think so. He is settling much better in his races as a four year-old and Tom Queally knows him like the back of his hand. He is simply a freak and if he can keep up the fractions over this distance as he does over a mile, he will break the hearts of his rivals, and I expect him to do just that.
St Nicholas Abbey is his main market rival at 5/1, and although he is a superb racehorse and a multiple Group 1 winner, he isn't good enough to wear this horse down and his best form to date has come over another couple of furlongs. Aidan O'Brien can try and make this a test of stamina, but I can't see Queally taking much notice of what the pacemakers are doing.
Farhh is a 10/1 shot for Saeed bin Suroor, Frankie Dettori's mount is best over this mile and a quarter, but he doesn't enjoy ground as fast as he is going to encounter here. Officials at York have put some water on the track ahead of the start of the meeting, but that is just to maintain the good to firm surface and it doesn't look like it will suit the Eclipse runner up. The same comments apply to outsider Planteur and trainer Marco Botti may take him out of the race. So, I'm sticking with Frankel to stretch his unbeaten run to 13 (my lucky number) on what is likely to be his penultimate start before he starts the next chapter of his life at stud.
The Great Voltigeur should give us some clues to next month's St Leger. Can any of these runners threaten Camelot's position at the top of the market? He is currently Sky Bet's 1/3 favourite. Main Sequence is 8/1 third best for the final classic of the season for which he goes on trial here. David Lanigan trains the colt who comes here having finished an unlucky 4th in the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp in July. Sky Bet have installed him as their 5/2 favourite for Wednesday's contest. He should take some beating if he can reproduce that form but this looks a tough race.
Prior to that unlucky outing, he was a staying on 2nd to Camelot in the Derby, so he comes into this race a fresh horse. He has to take on Frankel's baby brother Noble Mission in this mile and a half Group 2. He is 4/1 joint second favourite with Sir Henry Cecil's other runner Thomas Chippendale. Both of the Cecil runners look tough opponents. Noble Mission has worn a hood on his last five starts, but that will be left off at York as the horse is growing up and settling better. Cecil feels he is much more the finished article and how he fares here will determine whether he goes to Doncaster next. He just touched off Encke over this trip at Goodwood last time out and the Godolphin colt reopposes (9/2). Encke looks like he will appreciate the Leger trip and he is currently 14/1 for that race.
Thomas Chippendale is 10/1 for the Leger and he beat his stablemate Noble Mission in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot on his last outing. Like Noble Mission, he needs to grow up, but he is an improving colt and Cecil is hoping for a big run. He carries a 3lb penalty in this race thanks to his Ascot win. He is yet to run on ground this quick and that could be a concern also.
John Gosden has been in invincible form this season and you can't rule out a big run from his runner Thought Worthy who is priced at 6/1. The colt is 20/1 for the Leger and it could be worth backing him each way for the Doncaster race before he runs here.
He is a full brother to 2007 Leger winner Lucarno and should come into his own when stepped up to that trip. Godolphin's other runner Energizer completes the field and is 7/1, so as you can see this is a very open contest. It's very tempting to go with the favourite in this race, but I'm going to go with Noble Mission who I have sided with on a few occasions this season and who can get Frankel's connections off to the best start.
Five in the hunt
The Group 3 Acomb Stakes has attracted just the five runners but this seven furlong juvenile contest looks classy. Paul Hanagan has ridden plenty of winners at this track thanks to his association with Richard Fahey and he will be bidding to continue that trend for his new boss Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum. He rides the Charlie Hills trained Ebn Arab who was the impressive winner of his maiden over this course and distance in a race that is working out well. He holds some decent entries in the Autumn and should handle the leap into Group 3 company.
Dundonnell could be a tough opponent though after his impressive win at Lingfield on his second start on a racecourse. He also has some fancy entries and looks to have an exciting future. Aidan O'Brien runs Afonso de Sousa who is a half-brother to four winners, most notably Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown. He won his maiden at Leopardstown last time out on his third start and will enjoy the ground at York. So another tough race to figure out but I'm going with Ebn Arab to progress for that debut win.
Moving onto Thursday where the feature race is the Yorkshire Oaks. The Fugue has this Group 1 at her mercy after an impressive win in the Nassau Stakes at Glorious Goodwood. She goes well here having won the Musidora on the Knavesmire back in May, but my one concern is that she is better over two furlongs shorter than this mile and a half trip. Having said that she kept battling despite being knocked around in the Ribblesdale at Ascot and the ground will definitely be in her favour providing the forecast is correct. She was given a lovely ride by Richard Hughes in the Nassau and that nice experience could have given her the confidence boost she required.
The highest rated filly in the field is the French raider Shareta. She was 2nd in last year's Arc at a big price and has run well in defeat this season including when finishing runner up to Arc hopeful Meandre in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud last time out. She won't mind this sort of ground as it's been reported her trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre hasn't wanted conditions too testing for her in the past. I just think she may struggle against a true Group 1 filly like The Fugue though.
Oaks winner Was represents Aidan O'Brien who re-opposes having finished third to the favourite in the Nassau last time out. The step up in trip will be in her favour, but she got an excellent ride to win at Epsom and things may not go her way here. Sir Henry Cecil has another big race chance with Wild Coco who has only had the one start this year. She won the Lillie Langtry at Glorious Goodwood on her first outing since finishing down the field in the Galtres Stakes at this meeting last year. She has always promised to be a lovely filly and a bit of time off hasn't done her any harm. She stays very well though (that win at Goodwood came over a mile and three quarters) and The Park Hill at Doncaster is her main target so she could just be tapped for toe by the protagonists in this.
Jessica Harrington sends a good few horses to the meeting from her base in Ireland and she runs Bible Belt in this. She ran well in the Ballyroan Stakes last time out and this has been her target for some time. Shirocco Star has been consistent this year finishing 2nd in the Oaks, 3rd in the Ribblesdale and then 2nd again in the Irish Oaks last time out. She stays well but if the ground is still fast may not play to her strengths. No great prizes for picking The Fugue, but having been with her on a few occasions this year I'll be disappointed if she wins without me!
The Lowther Stakes is another of the feature races on Thursday and there are some exciting juvenile fillies declared for this 6 furlong Group 2. Horses to note are John Gosden's Newfangled who was the impressive winner of the Albany at Royal Ascot. That was her second start and she comes into this race unbeaten. Sandreamer ran over 5 furlongs at Newbury last week, but looked a bit tapped for toe there and should appreciate the return to 6 furlongs.
James Fanshawe has entered Badr Al Badoor who could be anything having won a 6 furlong Doncaster maiden on her only start to date. Pearl Sea is slowly improving and deserves her place in this line up. William Haggas runs another unbeaten filly, Rosdhu Queen, the mount of Ryan Moore. Jeremy Noseda has his team in great form and his possible runner is The Gold Cheongsam who won a nursery last time out and should pick up some black type at some point. Mark Johnston can't be discounted at the moment either and his Bailey's Jubilee has been running well in France and has claims too. It's hard to call but I'm taking on the likely favourite Newfangled with the value here and Bailey's Jubilee.
Friday is Nunthorpe Day and plenty here will depend on the weather. Roger Charlton is hoping that the track doesn't get any rain for his top class sprinter Bated Breath who is Sky Bet's 4/1 favourite. This horse really deserves a Group 1 victory before he retires to stud, but the elements have been conspiring against him this season. Ortensia won a Group 2 at Goodwood last time out, but it was a Group 1 in all but name with many of the top sprinters in the line-up.
William Buick was on board there and he retains the ride. The Australian mare is 5/1 joint second favourite. If she lines up in the same kind of form she will be hard to beat. Pearl Secret is also 5/1 for David Barron and comes into this race with a rapidly progressive profile having won all four of his outings to date. On official ratings he has it to do with Bated Breath rated 118 and this horse on 109 but given further improvement he could close the gap. Sole Power won this two years ago at 100/1, he's 6/1 to repeat that and given his favoured fast ground I think he is still showing form enough to trouble the protagonists.
Unless there are a few very hefty showers I think life will be tough for Mayson over this 5 furlongs, he is 10/1 to add to his July Cup victory. I think it's tough for the 3 year-olds like Pearl Secret, but it's not unheard of for a juvenile to win this (Lyric Fantasy and Kingsgate Native are two that spring to mind).
There are two juveniles in this, Ceiling Kitty for Tom Dascombe and Hoyam for Michael Bell. As they are both fillies they carry the minimum seven stone 12 lbs so can't be written off. Speaking of Kingsgate Native, his story has been well advertised. He is now with Robert Cowell who excels with sprinters at his Six Mile Bottom stables. He is 33/1 and hasn't run since September last year when in the care of Sir Michael Stoute. This is such a great renewal of the Nunthorpe and I'd love to see Bated Breath win for Roger Charlton. If the ground were to turn soft that would be worry though.
On the same card the Gimcrack is a smart race for juvenile colts and geldings over six furlongs. Declarations are made on Wednesday so we will know more then, but Kevin Ryan has a few decent chances with Blaine, Windsor Castle winner Hototo and Indian Jade with the former an exciting prospect after his maiden win over course and distance. Mark Johnston has his Richmond Stakes winner Heavy Metal in there and Noel Quinlan has supplemented Lewisham for the race after some decent efforts in defeat including in the July Stakes last time out when he finished 2nd.
Richard Hannon has Pearl Acclaim in after his win at Ripon last time out. William Haggas has Odooj who lost little in defeat at Nottingham last time out. Roger Varian has a couple in this too, Morawij and Rocky Ground. The former would appreciate good fast ground and the latter was just touched off in a conditions stakes last time out and looks a decent prospect. Aidan O'Brien has won this race a couple of times and he has Afonso de Sousa and Gale Force Ten representing him this time round although the former is declared to run in the Acomb earlier in the week.
The meeting concludes on Saturday with the Ebor Handicap the conundrum and it all centres around whether you fancy backing a relatively short priced favourite. Motivado is 4/1 but he deserves that price tag owing to his impressive win in a 1m 6f handicap at Goodwood last time out (for which he picks up a 4lb penalty, without which he may not have made the cut for Europe's most valuable handicap).
In a race as competitive as this it may pay to find a bit more value though. Luca Cumani is another trainer we always think of as 'shrewd' in these big handicaps. He saddles Qahriman, a 9/1 shot. The horse won over this course and distance last time out on easy ground, but he is also effective on better ground, so whatever the weather throws at us it shouldn't worry him. He does need a few horses to come out at declaration time, but all being well he should get a run.
I also like Simenon, who is trained by Ireland's master jumps trainer Willie Mullins. Simenon is 10/1 with Sky Bet, he's a horse with bags of stamina having won the Ascot Stakes and Queen Alexandra at Royal Ascot in June; the latter race is over 2 ¾ miles. He was then beaten 4 ½ lengths by Saddler's Rock in the Group 2 Goodwood Cup but doesn't seem quite up to that class. The excellent Darren Egan has been booked by Jessie Harrington to ride top weight Steps to Freedom (20/1), he claims 5lbs off the horse's back. 8/1 shot Cambourne also interests me for John Gosden and William Buick.
He has a rapidly improving profile and won a Royal Ascot handicap in impressive style on his last start. He looks like your typical group horse in a handicap and the big field and way the race is run is sure to suit him, although like most of these he needs luck. Number Theory (12/1) has been in superb form for his trainer John Holt but he seems to save his best for Haydock. However, he is improving and is versatile ground wise and there's no reason he shouldn't stay this trip. French based trainer John Hammond is always worthy of a great deal of respect when he sends runners to the UK. He has Hammerfest (8/1) in this contest. The horse was 2nd to Cambourne at Ascot and he is better off at the weights with that horse now. He does seem to enjoy soft ground but his trainer says he would prefer better ground so there could be more to come from this horse. Pick yourself the winner of the Ebor and you can give yourself a huge pat on the back! We obviously don't know where these horses are likely to be drawn yet (the lower the better) but at this stage I'm going with John Gosden's Cambourne.
There are some old favourites set to line up in the Group 2 Lonsdale Cup but for me if Saddler's Rock runs again then I'm with him. He won the Goodwood Cup a few weeks ago and I think he's a cup horse that can dominate for some time. He is still improving and can win this en-route to further success. Incidentally he is already 3/1 favourite for next year's Ascot Gold Cup.
Away from York and Goodwood stage a decent card on Saturday. Richard Hannon's Trumpet Major is fancied to win the Celebration Mile, but it looks like a super contest. Hannon does well at Goodwood and this horse comes here having dead heated for a Group 3 over this course and distance at the Glorious meeting. He was expected to improve for that outing and providing he gets decent ground can go in again.
Keep your eye on www.skybet.com for latest prices and daily specials throughout the week as there are sure to be some interesting York specials.
I'll also keep you up to date with my fancies on Sky Sports News and on Twitter Twitter.com/skysportsAlexH'
Frankel in the Juddmonte International
Noble Mission in the Great Voltigeur @ 4/1 with Sky Bet
Thought Worthy in the St Leger @ 20/1 with Sky Bet (each way)
Ebn Arab in the Acomb Stakes
The Fugue in the Yorkshire Oaks
Bailey's Jubilee in the Lowther Stakes
Bated Breath in the Nunthorpe Stakes @ 4/1 with Sky Bet
Cambourne in the Ebor @ 8/1 with Sky Bet
Saddler's Rock in the Lonsdale Cup
Trumpet Major in the Celebration Mile at Goodwood