Greatwood can strike for Highclere and Luca Cumani in Thursday's Dante Stakes at York, says Alex Hammond.
The Duke of York
One of my favourite meetings, the Dante meeting at York, takes place this week. This was the first race meeting I ever went to (apart from the point to point on Flagg Moor!) and it's fair to say it was a great place to start.
The action gets underway on Wednesday with the feature race the Duke of York, a Group 2 over six furlongs. I've really been looking forward to seeing Mince in action this term after a great season last year.
Roger Charlton's filly looks to be the best sprinting female in Europe having won five races including a Group 3 and two Listed contests. She is effective on most surfaces and seems pretty straightforward. Royal Ascot is her first major target, but I think she can take this en-route to that next month.
She faces some stiff opposition though including the Sir Henry Cecil trained Tickled Pink who was supplemented for this after her last run where she stepped up to Group company in the Abernant on her reappearance. She is an improving four year old. That was only her fifth start and she beat some established sprinters there (some of which reoppose here) and she could have an exciting season.
Society Rock has a 5lb Group 1 penalty to carry thanks to his win in the Sprint Cup at Haydock in September. He isn't always the most reliable in the stalls, but James Fanshawe and his team seemed to have worked hard to help iron out those problems towards the end of last year.
Another horse with a Group 1 penalty is Gordon Lord Byron who incurred his penalty thanks to his win in the seven-furlong Prix de la Foret, but he's effective over five and six furlongs too. Maarek will run so long as the ground isn't fast, he bypassed a race at Longchamp at the weekend as it was considered too quick for him, he has a 3lb Group 2 penalty thanks to his win in the Champions Sprint at Ascot.
John Gosden takes over the training of Swiss Spirit from David Elsworth. His form was a bit in and out last season, but he is very capable on his day and is effective over five and six furlongs. It's a classy renewal of this sprint, with some exciting horses coming up through the ranks and some of the familiar names in the line up too. I think Mince edges it for me though with some of her main rivals penalised in this Group 2, she could have a superb season.
Staying with Wednesday's action and Liber Nauticus goes on trial for the Oaks in the Mudisora. The Sir Michael Stoute-trained filly is prominent in the betting for the Epsom classic which takes place on May 31. She is the likely short-priced favourite for this having won her only start in a Goodwood Maiden Fillies' Stakes last year. She is owned by the Ballymacoll Stud and is from their superb family of Conduit and Spectrum so is bred for the Classic job.
Woodland Aria is another once raced filly, she won a Wolverhampton maiden in April. John Gosden trains the filly who didn't make it to the track as a juvenile after she scoped badly before her intended debut at Newmarket. She obviously has to step up considerably here, but that experience should have done her the world of good.
Indigo Lady is the highest rated in the field and also the most experienced having run three times as a juvenile. The Peter Chapple-Hyam-trained filly should appreciate the step up to middle distances this term as she is by Derby winner Sir Percy and is a half sister to staying chaser Deep Purple amongst others.
Both the market protagonists should improve considerably this season and I'm going with Liber Nauticus to get Sir Michael Stoute's meeting off to a great start.A quick word on the horse I own a few tail hairs of, Farlow. Sadly he missed the cut for the Victoria Cup last weekend as the seven-furlong trip looked ideal for him.
Trainer Richard Fahey has found a race for him on York's card and he lines up in the six-furlong handicap. Whilst he has done all his winning over five & six furlongs, it looks like seven may suit him better nowadays though which is a worry. However, Paul Hanagan takes the ride and hopefully he will acquit himself well after a couple of disappointing efforts.
Onto Thursday and there is a significant Derby Trial, the Dante Stakes, and the final of the trials for colts on the path to Epsom. It will be interesting to see if anything can cause a ripple at the top of the market as 2000 Guineas winner Dawn Approach is very solid after some of the trials in the last week or so.
The most disappointing trial winner was Battle of Marengo who seemed workmanlike in taking the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial. So can events at York shake things up a bit?
I was really looking forward to seeing Telescope run but sadly he has been ruled out following a late setback. Connections hope to still get him to Epsom.
Owners Highclere Thoroughbred Racing are still represented by Greatwood. He was withdrawn at the last minute before the Lingfield Derby trial on Saturday due to the ground which had been watered and then rain had eased it further. There were hugely positive vibes behind the Luca Cumani trained colt before his withdrawal and it would be great to see him take on Telescope here. He has also had the benefit of a run already this season when narrowly touched off in a valuable sales race at Newmarket.
Windhoek is the horse that beat Greatwood in the Newmarket sales race and Mark Johnston's horse comes here unbeaten in three runs. However, he hangs markedly left in his races and although this left handed track will suit, that has to be a worry. Sheikh Mohammed has told Johnston to aim for the Derby with him and to run in this race if he feels he needs the experience. He suffered a fractured pastern last season and he's not for me in this despite his admirable record.
Indian Chief is yet another blue blood from the Aidan O'Brien stable. He showed plenty of speed when winning a maiden at Leopardstown last time out and looks the right type for this race although he is a double figure price for the Derby at the moment.
Secret Number was third in the UAE Derby on his last start and is bidding to give Saeed bin Suroor a much needed winner. I know the stable haven't had many runners since coming back from Dubai (and there has also been the steroid scandal hanging over the Godolphin operation run by Mahmood al Zarooni) but I'm never keen on Godolphin horses in the earlier part of the season as they seem to take an age to get back into gear. If he wins it will be without me.
I was going to side with Telescope - but with him out Highclere can still win the race with Greatwood.
Friday is Yorkshire Cup day and whilst the declarations haven't been made there is a decent entry for this 1m 6f Group 2. Joshua Tree has his first run for Ed Dunlop and has a 4lb Group 1 winners penalty to carry after his victory in the Canadian International last September for Marco Botti. He clocked up a fair amount of air miles last season and he ran well in some of the top international middle distance races.
Another penalised for a win at the highest level is the Thomas Carmody trained Royal Diamond, who won the Irish Leger last Autumn. Cavalryman bounced back to form in the Dubai Gold Cup and he is also amongst the entries for Saeed bin Suroor.
Top Trip is an interesting entry for Francois Doumen, the horse looks capable of making up into a better four-year-old this term. Andrew Balding has some nice horses for Qatar Racing and he has A Boy Named Suzi in the race. He needs to step up on his second run for the stable.
Guarantee represents William Haggas, he has ability but that looks to be coupled with attitude. Quiz Mistress ran well in the John Porter last time out for Hughie Morrison and the step back up in trip will suit. If the ground isn't too quick I'd fancy her chances.
Richard Fahey has Glen's Diamond in the race and Mark Johnston is represented by Sir Graham Wade. Eagles Peak looks to have the option of a handicap on the same card for which he would be very interesting. I'm going with Quiz Mistress and I hope the ground isn't too fast.
Onto the weekend now, where the Lockinge is the feature race at Newbury. It's still some way off at the time of writing, but it looks set to be a classy contest with Cityscape, Farhh and Declaration of War all on course for the mile Group 1.
There are some huge boots to fill in the mile division after the retirements of Frankel and Excelebration and Roger Charlton will be hoping Cityscape can fill that gap. It could be a good week for the Wiltshire handler with Mince running at York and this guy running on Saturday.
This is his seasonal reappearance and he runs well fresh so should give a good account of himself. He is yet to win a European Group 1, but his path is much clearer now with the absence of those top two performers. My concern would be the ground, which is good to firm at the time of writing.
His best form has come with some ease in conditions so I'll be keeping an eye on the forecast this week. There is rain forecast and if it doesn't materialise then the track will be watered. The clerk of the course is hoping to start the meeting on the easy side of good to firm.
Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor will be hoping to move on from the steroid scandal that the team have been riding over the past few weeks. He saddled Farhh in the race. The yard are yet to train a winner since they came back from Dubai and they always seem to take a while to get going.
They do however have a good record in this race. As for Farrh, he is a horse that has had plenty of physical problems, but when he's right he is very smart. He ran some great races in defeat last season including twice to Frankel and although bin Suroor thinks ten furlongs is going to be his optimum trip this term, he is very effective over this mile.
Aidan O'Brien had a great week at Chester's May meeting and he sends Declaration of War over for this. The colt was a winner on his reappearance in a Listed race at Leopardstown and after that O'Brien said he would improve for better ground so conditions should suit well. He has to improve to win this, but he is thriving with experience and could well do so.
Sir Henry Cecil now trains last year's French 1000 Guineas winner Beauty Parlour and she could take on the colts for the first time in this. She had the one run for Cecil in the Falmouth last Autumn, where she ran disappointingly, and she has to prove that her French form is as strong as it initially looked.
I'm going to go with Declaration of War as he is improving and may have the edge over the horses having their first runs of the season.
Mince in The Duke of York
Liber Nauticus in The Musidora
Greatwood in The Dante
Quiz Mistress in The Yorkshire Cup
Declaration of War in The Lockinge
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