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Duke of York Stakes preview

More fresh talent taking up the offer to preview a feature race on the blog, this time Owen Alsop, @owenalsop, an aspiring racing writer from the West Country. Enjoy his offering below and he'll be back for more tomorrow.

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Duke of York Stakes

The 2013 renewal of the Group 2 Duke of York Stakes looks, on paper at least, to be one of the most competitive in recent times.

Following the retirement of possibly the greatest sprinter of all time, Black Caviar, there is a void to be filled at the head of the world’s sprinting ranks… could we see a contender for the throne in action at York on Wednesday?

The answer is probably no, we won’t see anything that will ever reach the lofty heights of the wonder mare. However, that is not to say that the field for the Duke of York does not contain a sprinter (or two, or three) capable of lifting British and Irish racing’s sprinting ranks back up to the levels that they once were.

Roger Charlton, upon hearing of Black Caviar’s retirement, jovially expressed on his website that ‘Mince is very happy’ with the prospect of not having to lock horns in the future with the wonder from down under. However, as jovial as this remark may have been from Mr Charlton, I could not help but read a little deeper into it and upon dissecting this one liner, I believe that the progressive Mince has an ambitious programme lined up for the summer ahead, aiming the bar at the highest of heights and taking in some of the top sprint races that Britain and Ireland have to offer whilst aiming to avenge the near misses of ex stable companion, Bated Breath, and scalp a Group 1 prize. I also decided that Roger Charlton, as modest as he may be, is expecting something special from this lovely filly. Imminent entries in both the Royal Ascot sprints, and the July Cup, prove that my dissection of Mince’s ‘thoughts’ were not a complete waste of time and fills me with optimism that Roger Charlton’s filly could be, and should be, one of Britain’s leading sprinters this term.

A winner over course and distance at her penultimate start last year, Mince went on to win the Group 3 John Guest Bengough Stakes at her last start of 2012 to make it four victories in a row and prove that she would be open to more improvement after progressing from the Shergar Cup sprint handicap to finish the season with two listed successes to accompany her Group 3. If Mince is fully wound up there is no reason to suggest that she won’t be without a great chance to land a maiden Group 2, however, Roger Charlton is renowned for his first up runners ‘needing the run’ and perhaps has his sights set on the riches that the summer could provide later on. Mr Charlton has also stated that should the ground turn up ‘very soft’ at York then he would consider withdrawing Mince and heading for the Temple Stakes at Haydock instead; a little cut in the ground won’t harm as her victory at Ascot would suggest.

Last year’s winner, Tiddliwinks, will certainly come on for his last run where he was put to the sword comprehensively by another progressive type in Sir Henry Cecil’s Tickled Pink. Whether Kevin Ryan’s charge has come on enough to turn the tables on Tickled Pink is another question, and one that I think I know the answer too. Tiddliwinks is in the same boat as several others though; Angels Will Fall, The Cheka, Hawkeyethenoo and Jimmy Styles all have to improve significantly if they are to turn the tables on Sir Henry Cecil’s impressive Abernant winner and I don’t think they will. Tickled Pink’s form was given a boost on Sunday afternoon as Abernant third, Move in Time, was a head away from landing Group 3 glory in the Prix De Saint-Georges a Longchamp on Sunday and Cecil’s filly holds all the fancy entries for the big sprints this summer. With the benefit of a racecourse performance this season, and a sizzling performance at that, Tickled Pink has every chance in sending punters giggling to collect. Sir Henry Cecil is a master at hand picking the right races for his crop and for him to lodge his Yarmouth maiden winner against the boys, in a Group 3, on her seasonal reappearance was no fluke, Sir Henry clearly rates this filly highly and judging by her ready win last time out, it would take a brave punter to bet against a repeat performance in the Duke of York.

James Fanshawe’s Society Rock has been flying the flag for British sprinters over the last couple of seasons and landed a deserved second success at Group 1 level in the Sprint Cup in his penultimate race of 2012. Now a six year old, I would expect Society Rock to be close to, or at, his optimum this season and could easily see another Group success being collected by connections. Fanshawe is plotting the same route as last season in reappearing at York where he missed out in third by half a length to Tiddliwinks. I can see Society Rock running well again in the Duke of York, but I would limit his chances to an each-way shout; the Group 1 penalty he will saddle could prove to be the difference as two of his main rivals, Mince and Tickled Pink, will run the race eight pounds better off at the weights and whilst I wouldn’t see the high draw as too much of a negative as others may, I can’t see it as a huge plus either. It would be great to see Society Rock salute and make me look a fool tomorrow, but I’d rather expect him to fight (and win) another day.

Also saddling a Group 1 penalty is Tom Hogan’s globetrotting Gordon Lord Byron, who finished second to Society Rock in last season’s Sprint Cup before winning the Prix De La Foret at Longchamp. Gordon Lord Byron finished an admirable fourth in the Hong Kong Mile to the local champion Ambitious Dragon, the outcome of which was a decision to return to sprint trips for this season with entries in both Royal Ascot sprints and the July Cup. I’m happy to put a line through his most previous outing in the Golden Shaheen as I don’t think William Buick’s mount that day handled the Tapeta surface all too well but, with a bit to find on Society Rock and fellow Irish raider Maarek, my preference is for others in the race. A Group 1 winner at double figure odds though is no poor bet and Gordon Lord Byron is one of many that could pick up some place money.

William Buick jumps off Gordon Lord Byron to ride for ‘the boss’ John Gosden who will saddle Swiss Spirit. Another in the field with all the entries, Swiss Spirit was last seen finishing a distant last to Wizz Kid in the Prix De L’Abbaye on a surface more akin to a farm yard than a premier racecourse, such was the amount of rain that fell at Longchamp over Arc weekend. We can firmly draw a line through that run and look slightly further back to his Group 3 success at Newbury in the Dubai International Airport World Trophy where he left the re-opposing Tiddliwinks and former Group 1 winner Kingsgate Native behind him. Kingsgate Native did the form no harm when rallying late to just miss in the Palace House Stakes at Newmarket on Guineas Day. John Gosden is another who does not waste entries lightly and if Swiss Spirit wasn’t up to this level he wouldn’t be running, with this in mind however, Swiss Spirit does have some form to find on Tiddliwinks and the unfancied Jimmy Styles who I don’t think will get close tomorrow; for this reason I won’t be able to have Swiss Spirit but I wouldn’t knock anyone who has faith in Gosden and Buick and improvement from last season is more than possible.

My preference for the Duke of York Stakes will have to be for David Peter Nagle’s Maarek. With the rains falling this may seem like an obvious choice, but Maarek is not just a wet track bully in my humble opinion, having beaten Gordon Lord Byron on good ground back in April of last year and finishing a close sixth on good ground in the Wokingham. I was extremely impressed with Maarek’s win in the Champions Sprint at Ascot where he defeated a high class field that contained several of today’s rivals including Society Rock and another Group 1 winner in Wizz Kid. I was also extremely impressed by his reappearance win over a shortened trip of five furlongs when giving weight all around in the Woodlands Stakes. It was only a Listed race, granted, but it included Saturday’s Listed race winner Scream Blue Murder and Leitir Mor who, before pacemaking duties in the 2000 Guineas had almost lowered the colours of superstar stable mate Dawn Approach in the Dewhurst Stakes. Again, entered in all of the major sprints, I am positive that Maarek will be a major player at the top level of sprinting throughout the season and will be surprised if he doesn’t land an elusive Group 1 come the end of the year. In saying this, I expect Maarek to go extremely close tomorrow and would be a touch disappointed if he didn’t take the prize and the plaudits back over the Irish Sea. In light of recent Irish raider successes I can see the pattern continuing, especially if the rain continues to fall.

The Duke of York Stakes will be one of the highlights of the Dante meeting and there are several who have more than a squeak at landing the Group 2 prize, but my preference is for the Irish raider Maarek ahead of Mince and Tickled Pink. I would also stress that a few of these sprinters are reappearing in the Duke of York and there will certainly be more than one eye catcher tomorrow, keep your other eye on the bigger sprints throughout the summer…

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