The magnificent Ebor Festival kicks off tomorrow on the Knavesmire. With four fabulous days of racing, there are plenty of races to go around, so if you're keen to try your hand at writing a preview, please drop me a line!
Kicking off proceedings with the opening race of the Festival is regular contributor, the astute Chris Day, @chrisday100.
Symphony Group Handicap
Class 2, £60,000
1355 local, 2255 AEST
Latest Going Map from TurfTrax
York’s Ebor meeting kicks off on ground rated on the fast side of good and the now traditional curtain raiser, a high quality sprint handicap over 5 furlongs and 89 yards, is a typically tricky puzzle to solve where small margins will make a big difference to the end result.
Kevin Ryan has won the last two runnings of this event and fields last year’s sixth and the 2013 winner, Bogart, who seems feasibly treated and has presumably had this as a target for some time. He was 3lbs higher in the ratings when winning this but the suspicion remains that something better treated will emerge from the other 19 runners. Ryan also runs Distant Past who has been progressive all season but will need a career best to win this from this mark. Both should run well but will need all the luck going to rattle up the trainer’s hat trick in the race.
David O’Meara has an almost unsurpassed record in the last few seasons in Knavesmire handicaps and his Highland Acclaim, who has form here with a victory from a mark of 80 last June over 6 furlongs then two elsewhere from marks of 87 and 94 last August, must also be strongly considered. He’s now just 1lb higher than his last winning mark and his Newmarket third last time should have put him spot on for top connections.
Another Yorkshire trainer who does well in these sprint handicaps, Brian Smart, runs 2011 Prix De L’Abbaye winner, Tangerine Trees, who arguably put up his best recent showing when sixth here in July. There must be a question, though, whether he can win this as a 10 year old and the trainer has another interesting contender in Meadway, who has always promised more than he’s delivered and is presumably highly thought of. He’ll probably be winning before the season is out but whether he’ll be sharp enough here is open to question.
Continuing on the Yorkshire trainers’ theme, the wily old fox, David Barron, has last year’s fourth, Robot Boy, entered and a reproduction of last year’s effort should see him in the mix. He won earlier in the season at Newbury and it appears that flat tracks and quick ground suit him well. I formed the opinion that the trainer was expecting a bold show when interviewed at Pontefract on Sunday and he can’t be left out of calculations after a go in Group company.
Michael Dods also runs Mass Rally but he’s one I’m keen to rule out on the ground and feel an extra furlong and soft ground are needed to show his best. For all he didn’t look like a winner waiting to happen at Ripon at the weekend, there should be opportunities for him over further at this track and Ayr, which both suit him, in the closing months of the season.
David Nicholls has always been considered a sprint king and Barnet Fair is a regular in these types of races, often doing his best work at the finish and subsequently going off well fancied only to repeat the trick. I could see this race suiting him but will pass him over for win purposes as he seldom does that. He had some good sorts behind him at Goodwood but is now 3lbs higher and does flatter to deceive.
Another trainer who clearly targets races here is Richard Fahey and he has Arctic Feeling entered up. He has some very solid course form and is coming back to a winnable mark but the question is whether he can lay up with what is bound to be a break neck pace.
Mark Johnston runs two who have had typically busy seasons in Midlander and Indescribable. Both have been fine adverts for their trainer but also had hard seasons and I’m not sure if this race will be too competitive off career high marks for the duo and Singeur, from the Rebecca Bastiman yard, has it all to do here.
Robert Cowell runs Shergar Cup hero, Secretinthepark and there’s no reason why he won’t go well for a trainer who regularly pulls rabbits out of the hat with sprinters and there’s little between him and the Gary Moore trained Dutch Masterpiece for whom the booking of Pat Smullen really does take the eye. Smullen was on board when just touched off at Ascot and he’s another horse you couldn’t write off here. Cowell reportedly feels this test will suit Secretinthepark really well and he’s a difficult trainer to argue with due to his excellent record.
Caspian Prince has been a great horse for previous connections winning a Meydan sprint under Richard Hughes worth over £100k to the winner and is fairly treated if back to his best but that really is anybody’s guess. It wouldn’t surprise me if Meydan was again the aim although he does get a big weight pull with Desert Law on Curragh running from June.
Roger Charlton will have a big say in the day’s feature, the International with Time Test, but his Huntsman’s Close is a progressive 6 furlong performer, having finished sixth in the Stewards’ Cup after winning cosily at Windsor. The feeling is he’s more of a 6 furlong horse and any deficiencies in pace will be cruelly exposed here.
Shore Step’s trainer, Mick Channon, is in great form at the moment and his jockey, Silvestre De Sousa rides the course better than most although I’m not convinced a pure speed test is exactly what he needs.
One trainer who really has had a great time of it this season is Charlie Hills, winning three Group 1 sprints and a Stewards’ Cup, and he has an interesting contender in Lucky Beggar, who was sent off 3-1 behind Robot Boy at Newbury first time out this season from a 5lbs higher mark and ran an eye catcher on his return from a break at Goodwood. He was switched to the outside from his draw yet only gave up third in the last half furlong and is a well thought of animal presumably considered better than this mark. If he proves that here, he’s no 20-1 shot and I’ll be having a few quid on him.
Finally, Paul Midgley runs Silvanus, a 10 year old who last week won the race at Ripon he’d won a year earlier, but is likely to find this a much hotter contest, and Desert Law, a 7 year old who appears to be in the form of his life. He followed his Epsom Dash victory on Derby Day from a 17lbs lower mark with excellent placed efforts in big fields at The Curragh and Ascot and travelled like a dream when winning at Nottingham last time out. He’s got a 6lbs penalty but appeared in rude health in the East Midlands and could have trebled the margin if ridden out or slightly more restraint had been applied and a searing early pace should suit him fine. He’s won over 6 furlongs but is not devoid of pace and any double figure prices would be most attractive from a betting point of view. It goes against the grain to tip older horses from career high ratings but he may just be coming to himself and surely has more wins in him.
This race has a record of going to horses carrying 9 stone and over, not surprising probably given the nature of the track and often prevailing fast ground and I’ll be hoping to see Dettori and Martin Lane sitting ready to pounce as the whips are up approaching the furlong marker and unleashing their mounts’ blinding turn of foot from there.