Our racing expert attempts to crack the four York races being shown live on ITV4 this afternoon.
2:20 5f Betfred “Supports Jack Berry House” Handicap (Class 2) (4yo+)
Last year’s winner and forecast favourite Duke Of Firenze teed up nicely for this with a solid fourth at Chester last week, when he would have finished closer but for being bumped at the start and then running up the back of horses at a crucial stage. But I’m not sure he wants the ground this soft – it was good to firm 12 months ago – and SOIE D’LEAU is preferred at a very backable 14/1 with Paddy Power. Kristin Stubbs’ five-year-old made good progress last year, winning three times, including on soft at Haydock, and given that he has improved for every additional year in training there may be more to come this term. Last month’s fourth at Newbury should have put him spot on for this.
2:55 1m2½f (1m2f56y) Betfred Middleton Stakes (Group 2) (Fillies & Mares) (Class 1) (4yo+)
All of the last ten winners of this race were returned at 5/1 or shorter and that’s likely to continue as it’s hard to see past the pair at the head of the market, SO MI DAR and Queen’s Trust, who are priced at 11/10 and 2/1 respectively with bet365. The latter is one of two Sir Michael Stoute representatives, the other being South African import Smart Call, and she is readily passed over on account that all her best form – most notably a Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf success last November – has come on a sound surface. This also looks like a pipe-opener for her.
John Gosden’s So Mi Dar is also having her first run back, but she has an impeccable record first time out and was at her very best last spring, when beating the boys in the Epsom Derby Trial and slamming her rivals in the Musidora Stakes at this meeting. She looked a little below her best when meeting with her only defeat in five starts in a French Group 1 last autumn, albeit she was only beaten half a length into third, and she remains an unexposed filly with the potential to trouble the best in the bigger contests this summer. Her Epsom victory came on soft, so today’s slow surface won’t be an issue either.
UPDATE – So Mi Dar is a non-runner (unsuitable ground) and Queen’s Trust is now favourite, but I’d rather be with the Gosden second-string The Black Princess (13/8 bet365) as she looks progressive and has shown she can handle ground with cut in it.
3:30 1m2½f (1m2f56y) Betfred Dante Stakes (Group 2) (Class 1) (3yo)
John Gosden’s CRACKSMAN didn’t impress everyone when winning Epsom’s Derby Trial on his reappearance as he had to work hard to wear down Permian, with just a short head separating the pair at the line. But it was a better performance than it looked and, given his inexperience, he really should have been beaten in a slowly run race that turned into a sprint against a race-fit rival, who franked the form when winning a Listed contest at Newmarket next time.
We could see a much better performance from the son of Frankel this afternoon and he’ll need to win to justify 7/1 quotes of around 7/1 for the Derby, but he’s far from a certain runner at the time of writing with Gosden concerned about running him on soft ground and planning on walking the track in the morning. Owner Anthony Oppenheimer, whose colours were carried to carried to success by Golden Horn in 2015, seems less concerned about conditions, saying as long as the ground isn’t heavy he’s happy to run. If he gets his way, and he pays the bills, Cracksman’s class may well get him through, but I can hardly put him up as a bet here at the current 11/4.
Besides, there are plenty of others in the field with comparable form or better and Rekindling and Exemplar are two, judging by their Irish Group race efforts, while Nottingham maiden winner Crystal Ocean has been the subject of a Derby gamble this week, although his trainer Sir Michael Stoute has expressed doubts as to whether he will be ready to mix it with the best at this stage of his career.
But there a few others of interest and David Elsworth’s SWISS STORM, one of four runners in the Godolphin blue, could be worth a small each-way punt at bet365’s 16/1 (that price will be subject to a Rule 4 if Cracksman doesn’t run, but we may still beat the SP). Another Frankel colt, he won a Newbury maiden in good style last autumn and, having missed the 2000 Guineas due to not being quite ready, he has reportedly been pleasing his trainer at home of late. Elsworth (writing in a recent Stable Tour) reckons he’s one for the all the top 1m-1m2f races, with York’s Juddmonte International being mentioned as a possible target, and in which case he ought to put up a bold showing here.
UPDATE – Cracksman has been pulled out on account of the ground and that leaves the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Benbati as favourite at around the 7/2 mark, but I’m happy to stick to the selection to small stakes each-way.
4:05 1m (7f192y) Betfred TV Hambleton Handicap (Listed Race) (Class 1) (4yo+)
This looks a fiercely competitive renewal with half a dozen or more holding strong claims, but I’m going to side with William Haggas’ VICTORY BOND. He’s less exposed than most of these with just four starts under his belt and has been highly tried since winning a Redcar maiden by seven lengths last April. He went off at just 12/1 for the Dante on his next start and given that he didn’t help himself by pulling quite hard early, he wasn’t disgraced in finishing sixth. His subsequent third in a French Group 3 was far from shabby either and, while he’s not been seen out since (an absence of 330 days), he’s likely been readied for this prestigious handicap by his shrewd handler, who will be keen to exploit a potentially generous mark of 100 before stepping him back up in class. His form figures with cut in the ground are 214, so there are no worries over the conditions, and his rider Pat Cosgrave has options from a middle draw in stall nine. All of which makes him a solid each-way proposition at Betfair’s 11/1.
York 2.20, Soie D’Leau each-way @ 14/1 Paddy Power
York 2.55, So Mi Dar @ 11/10 bet365 – NON-RUNNER
York 3.30, Swiss Storm each-way @ 16/1 bet365 (1/4 odds, 1.2.3)
York 4.05, Victory Bond each-way @ 11/1 Betfair (1/4 odds, 184.108.40.206)