The quality racing continues at York with the headline event of the festival, the Dante Stakes. For those not so familiar with British flat racing, this is the premier prep race for the Derby. Whatever happens today will have a huge bearing on the markets for the jewel of British flat racing. which ridiculously, they run on the GOAT TRACK called Epsom. So if you fancy one of these for the derby, like our previewer does, get in early or take a significantly reduced price.
Back in the ring for another swing today is William Kedjanyi, @keejayOV. You can read more of his musings across a plethora of sports and events on his blog.
Betfred Dante Stakes
Group 2, Class 1, 3YO
Elm Park: Has always looked a natural for middle distances, going unbeaten in four races after his debut, most importantly knuckling down to beat Nafqa for the Royal Lodge (good to firm, Newmarket) and then coming right away to land the Racing Post Trophy in style on a soft surface, the form of which has been boosted by third Celestial Path’s Guineas fifth. The step upto 10 furlongs looks long overdue, and while much has been made of his liking for ground with cut and the need to avoid ‘rattling fast’ ground, he beat Nafqa on good to firm and should be fine today. Expected to come on significantly for the run, as he was meant to for his lacklustre gallop at Newbury. Big chance.
Golden Horn: Extremely green on debut but class told as he just got past Storm The Stars (Chester Vase second) at Nottingham, and then returned with an impressive display in the Fielden Stakes when travelling smoothly from the rear and putting the race to bed quickly in a taking manner. The form of that has been held down through Disgeno’s close second in what was admittedly a weak Dee Stakes, but this particular contender should come on leaps and bounds for that and take high rank.
Jack Hobbs: The current Derby favourite despite having never run in a group race, which might say something about the quality of the race on paper at this stage. Well liked for debut at Wolverhampton, which he won with ease, but safe to say that nobody expected him to win the 10 furlong Sandown handicap in the manner that he did, sprinting clear before ending up 12 lengths infront despite being eased down. This today is obviously a totally different test for him – he was running off a mark of 85 at Sandown – but he must be given huge respect with an official mark of 109 putting him right in the mix and surely more to come on just his third start.
John F Kennedy: Had a lofty reputation before even stepping onto a racecourse, so his debut defeat at Leopardstown was disappointing for many. However as so many from his debut do, he took a big step forward to make amends impressively next time out at the Curragh, and returned to Leaopardstown, made short work of the Juvenile Turf Stakes on Irish Champions Weekend; That form has worked out fairly well with runner up Tombelaine winning a Listed contests this season and fourth Bertie le Belge landing a conditions contest this week. He was a 1/4 for the Ballysax Stakes on his return, but ended up a big disappointment when an awkward and slow paced third. That run was plainly not that of a derby winner, but he was reappearing in a month that is traditionally extremely slow for his stable and also on ground that would have been of absolutely no use. Returned to a fast surface and sure to be straighter with Epsom not that far away, expect much better from him. A notable worry is his behaviour (before and during races) so paddock watching should prove informative, especially beforehand, although it did not hamper him as a juvenile.
Lord Ben Stark: Looked a horse of promise when landing maiden at Haydock last September following from satisfactory debut but not gone on since in two starts behind Elm Park and then on return behind Musidora winner Star of Seville. Hard to see him improving enough to get anywhere close to the leading contenders.
Medrano: Has been beaten on all five starts since last season’s maiden win, running creditably on all but one occasion when last in the Royal Lodge (also beaten four lengths by Celestial Path, which puts him well behind Elm Park.) This drop down in trip from the Chester Vase doesn’t look ideal, either.
Nafaqa: Made one of the most taking debuts in a 2 year old race last season when flying home for fourth in the Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot and after maiden success, then fought hard to get verdict in Listed contest when showing greenness late on. Afterwards, had a ding-dong duel with Elm Park in the Royal Lodge, just getting the worst of the argument, to end his season. Very promising return when second to speedier Kool Kompany at Newmarket, and should love this step up in trip.
Ol’ Man River: A derby horse on paper if ever there was one, being a €2.85 million son of Finscael Beo by Montjeu, and 25-1 quotes on him landing the Derby were a thing of the past after a taking debut, something that he supplemented with an even more impressive success in the Beresford Stakes where Tombelaine disappointed, leaving the visual impression as a much stronger element than the form. Despite stablemate Gleneagles having won two Group 1’s, he went off just 6/1 for the 2,000 Guineas but returned tailed off after Joesph O’Brien stopped riding very sharply, clearly being a little amiss. While he has something to prove here – no excuses were given for his defeat – this trip is surely what he’s been waiting for and the markets for today and the Derby look to have overreacted grossly to his initial showing and he could well be value.
VERDICT: With several contenders fluffing their lines, and some weak trial field, this Derby picture looks to be the muddiest for some years, but in the shape of the Dante we have what will surely prove to be the strongest trial in the leadup to Epsom. John Gosden’s pair of deeply impressive handicap winner Jack Hobbs and Fielden winner Golden Horn are both entitled to huge respect, while Elm Park should be going close here– regardless of how much improvement is expected for the run. That said, preference is for the Ballydoyle pairing of JOHN F KENNEDY and OL’ MAN RIVER, who ran shocking races on their seasonal reapperances but can both be forgiven those with ease. If returning to their best form today then they have claims as convincing as anyone in the field and both are preferred for today and the Derby, having shown tremendous promise for staying as a juvenile.
Advice: 1 pt win John F Kennedy (7/2 Hills), 1 pt each/way Ol’ Man River (10/1 Coral)
Ante Post: 1 pt each/way John F Kennedy, Derby (8/1 general), 1 pt each/way l’ Man River, Derby (16/1 general)