Potential for a bit of rain tomorrow afternoon side, conditions look perfect in view of Day 1 of the 2018 Ebor Festival at York, where a top class four days of Flat racing kicks off at 1.55pm on Wednesday with a typically testing puzzle for punters to try and unravel.
A Class 2 Handicap over five and a half furlongs, there are plenty of familiar names taking part in this opening sprint worth a cool £70,000 in prize money. The market leader, CULTURATI, is a typically well-bred and well-regarded son of Dubawi racing in Godolphin blue, for Charlie Appleby and William Buick. With only six career starts, this 5yo is the only really lightly-raced horse in the field and you’d imagine the boys in blue will be disappointed if a handicap mark of 100 is the extent of his ability.
The Group 3 Acomb Stakes is an interesting 7f sprint for 2yos at 2.25pm, where the top three in the market ran over 6f, 7f and 8f between them last time out. So it’ll be interesting to see which of Watan (6f winner at Goodwood), Broome (1m winner at Galway) and Mark Johnston’s PERSIAN MOON can win that little battle of the distances. But at the prices, I’m siding with the experienced last-named runner under Silvestre De Sousa. Persian Moon took time to reach top gear over the course and distance last time out, but there was a lot to like about how strong he was at the line and I reckon he’s the horse to beat here.
At bigger odds, the Charlie Hills trained Pogo did a good speed figure last time out and might creep into the frame if one or two others happen to disappoint.
The Group 2 Great Voltigeur at 3.00pm is a serious renewal of the 1m4f contest, which has rarely been seen as a more eye-catching fixture in context of future talent over middle and staying trips. Cross Counter looked superb for Charlie Appleby last time out at Goodwood, producing a high class speed figure when slamming Dee Ex Bee in the Gordon Stakes. That just about sets the standard on form, but Kew Gardens is right up his backside in that regard, on the back of his Group 1 success in the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp last time out. It tough to choose between the two, and they do set a formidable bar.
Wells Farhh Go was given a great ride at Newmarket and this will be tougher for the third in the market, while The Pentagon does find it hard to win and is readily opposable, barring a major upturn in form. Old Persian has a bit to find, but could prefer York over the Curragh, while the others have a mountain to climb.
CROSS COUNTER might just be the rising force.
The race of the day and perhaps the season is the 3.35pm Juddmonte International over 1m2f, which brings together the best of the 3yo & older horses ranging from milers to middle distance Champions over 12 furlongs and this distance of 10. Poet’s Word sets a clear standard, but has to forfeit weight to the 3yos and seems to be more at home going the other way around. York, in tow with some stern opposition, will expose any chinks at all in his armour, especially if this turns into a test of speed.
ROARING LION got the better of Saxon Warrior over this trip at Sandown Park, showing not just his quality but also his determination to win. John Gosden’s son of Kitten’s Joy destroyed the field in the Dante here at York back in May, where Oisin Murphy had the confidence to let the horse quicken clear plenty far from home. But the horse responded by really eating up the Knavesmire and stretched impressively clear.
That proven liking for the track, along with his undeniably solid 3yo form at this level, makes Roaring Lion a very hard horse to ignore. Saxon Warrior could do it, but the growing weight of evidence suggests others are just a little better than him.
I have plenty time for Without Parole and he adds a bit of flare to the occasion, though it’ll take something special from the Frankel colt to win at this distance in such hot company. Benbatl is capable of running a big race to hit the frame, while I’m not sure what to expect from Irish Derby winner Latrobe; I just know I don’t want to back him.
York is an all-class venue and Ebor week is all class. I first went to York only 4 years ago but since then, it has quickly developed into just about my favourite flat course anywhere. Here’s hoping for a profitable at best, but pain free at worst few days on the punting front. It won’t be easy, but we’ll have a go…
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