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Dante Stakes preview

The eponymous race of this Festival, the Dante Stakes is the main race leading into Epsom in just over a fortnight. The other Derby trials haven't exactly sent hearts racing, let's hope we see something here which justifies the endless hype Derby week thrusts upon the key chances. Having another crack at a preview is aspiring racing writer @owenalsop.


Dante Stakes

The Dante Stakes at York is the final ‘official’ trial for the Derby, and tomorrow eight more contenders will attempt to lay down a marker for the Epsom show piece.

Since the declarations were released last week, there had been overwhelming support for Sir Michael Stoute’s one time Derby favourite, Telescope, this has all changed however, with the news of the colts sensational scratching from the Dante on Tuesday this Group 2 has been thrown wide open and Telescope’s Derby prospects all but thrown away.

The field for the Dante Stakes is headed in the markets by Aidan O’Brien’s Indian Chief. With Ballydoyle claiming all of the Derby trials over the last week, including at Chester and Lingfield, there is no reason to suggest why they wouldn’t add yet another Epsom contender to their ever growing list. Indian Chief was last seen running out an impressive winner of a maiden at Leopardstown, a win that suggested the ten furlong trip of the Dante shouldn’t be an issue with a step up to a mile and a half not looking out of the question either. The horse in second position on that day was Dubai Deer who has since gone on and broken his maiden status. Indian Chief’s win at Leopardstown came on soft ground, which is likely to be the surface tomorrow following the buckets of rain that have been falling on the Knavesmire since Tuesday; this is another tick in the box for Aidan O’Brien’s colt. A similar profile to the stable’s Chester winner, Ruler of the World, Indian Chief will be stepping up from maiden company to Group racing for the first time but given recent results, and in a fairly unexposed field this isn’t a worry for me and I think Indian Chief will be in the reckoning come the business end of the Dante; at a best priced 10/3 with Sportingbet though, I am prepared to look elsewhere for a touch more value.

The Godolphin stable saddle an interesting runner in Secret Number who will be having his first start on turf following a winter in Dubai that saw the colt win a Listed race and finish third, behind Lines of Battle, in the UAE Derby. Lines of Battle didn’t completely disgrace this form when running an admirable seventh in a windswept, rain sodden Kentucky Derby last time out. Secret Number’s third in the UAE Derby was extremely encouraging and suggested that the extra half furlong of the Dante would be ideal. The big question mark for me though would be how Secret Number will handle the likely soft ground when running on turf for the first time and for that reason I am going to put him in my ‘to watch’ column rather than my ‘to lump on’ pile. It is also important to remember that, apart from Lines of Battle, no other runners from the UAE Derby have been seen since so there is a grey area as to how the form of that race will work out; win or lose, Godolphin need not worry, I’m fairly happy with their first and foremost Derby contender, Dawn Approach.

As it currently stands, with Telescope in the recovery paddock, the English Derby challenge is ever fading. The Dante though, could provide a bit of light at the end of the tunnel for the home guard with Windhoek, Greatwood and Ghurair re-opposing one another.

In the Tattersalls Millions three year-old Trophy, Mark Johnston’s Windhoek held on from Luca Cumani’s Greatwood and John Gosden’s Ghurair. Since then, Windhoek has gone on to win the Listed Newmarket Stakes, over ten furlongs, in a more impressive fashion than in the Tattersalls Millions. However, the jury is out on what exactly Windhoek beat in the Newmarket and I’d suggest that the strength in depth of that race was not up to Listed class. All of Windhoek’s victories have come on quick ground, something that is unlikely to appear at York and there will be question marks over how Mark Johnston’s charge will handle some cut. Windhoek does not hold an entry for the Derby but it has been suggested that a supplementation fee is not far away and a victory in the Dante would all but confirm a start at Epsom. It’s hard to knock an unbeaten horse, with black type to his name at that, but I will be watching, rather than backing Windhoek.

Luca Cumani’s Greatwood took three attempts to break his maiden status before running Windhoek to a short head in the Tattersalls Millions. A bold performance which showed that stamina won’t be an issue, it will be interesting to see how Greatwood fares against Windhoek slightly fresher and on softer ground but a similar question mark hangs over Cumani’s charge in that I’d like to see some form on softer ground before backing him. I see no obvious reasons for Greatwood to reverse the form with Windhoek, unless he handles the ground better. We will have to wait and see.

Despite finishing behind both Greatwood and Windhoek at Newmarket, I am more supportive in the race of John Gosden’s Ghurair. Slightly more exposed than others in the race, Ghurair relishes soft going and ran a brilliant race when stepped up in distance on his seasonal reappearance at Newmarket. Ghurair has always been well regarded by John Gosden and it is fascinating to see that there is no current entry for Epsom but instead the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. Ghurair also has useful snippets of form; in his last start of last season, Ghurair beat Richard Hannon’s Havana Gold who ran a blinder in the French Guineas on Sunday. All of Ghurair’s past performances have shaped up as if he would appreciate an extended trip and John Gosden did warn that he was in danger of needing the run on his reappearance behind Windhoek and Greatwood. I would be confident of Ghurair turning the tables on both of his Newmarket conquerors and at a best priced 13/2 with Paddy Power, I would be happy to back Ghurair, safe in the knowledge that I will get a good run for my money and have every chance of watching him land the Dante.

As the market would suggest, I think Dashing Star and Libertarian will be outclassed but if the ground does come up soft, I wouldn’t put anyone off an each-way punt on David Elsworth’s Dashing Star who seemed to relish the cut on her penultimate start when hosing up by four lengths at Nottingham; a best priced 66/1 with William Hill, Stan James or Bet Victor, Dashing Star could be worth a little each-way money.

The final contender is another Irish raider, this time from the Jim Bolger yard. A Group 1 runner at his last start, Trading Leather floundered in the bottomless conditions behind Kingsbarns and co. in the Racing Post Trophy at Newmarket. Up to that point Trading Leather’s form had been fairly solid and as one of just two horses in the Dante field to be a black type winner, and a dual one at that, it’s fair to say that his form is still relatively handy. The ground conditions, should it get worse than soft, would be a worry for me but I’d be confident of Jim Bolger’s charge handling anything better than heavy. Trading Leather has a lovely piece of form in that he has beaten 2000 Guineas runner up, Glory Awaits, by five lengths, the same distance as his illustrious stable mate, Dawn Approach beat Glory Awaits in the 2000 Guineas. Taken literally, this is a brilliant piece of form, and I don’t think Jim Bolger is a man to waste entries when sending his runners over to England. I am expecting Trading Leather to bounce back from his disappointing run in the Racing Post Trophy and put in a much better performance tomorrow and a win certainly wouldn’t shock. The same price as Ghurair in the market at 13/2 with BetVictor and Sportingbet, I can see this pairing provide the winner of the Dante at a good price.


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