Saturday’s 17-runner heritage handicap for three-year-olds at York is an ideal way to limber up for the even sterner challenges at Royal Ascot next week.
The pace looks to be in the middle-to-high stalls, which could give the fast-improving Showalong (3.40), a winner on the Knavesmire last autumn, an ideal tow. Tim Easterby’s colt was a ready winner at Chester’s May meeting too and should have better yet to come after just five starts.
Chester 1.40 The ground was soft at Haydock last month when Havagomecca put up an improved performance to get off the mark on turf, but her action suggests she will go on quicker ground. She had to wait for a gap before picking off the leader with an impressive burst of speed and can repeat the trick by chasing down the likely pace-setter, Rebel At Dawn.
York 2.00 Arctic Fox won this race with something to spare off a mark of 84 in 2019 but is down to 77 two years later having failed to add to that success. He switched to Martin Todhunter’s stable over the winter, however, and his run at Ayr last time hinted at a possible revival with a repeat win in Saturday’s race an obvious target.
Sandown 2.15 Atalis Bay was no match for Winter Power at York last time out, but the winner there is second-favourite for the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot on Tuesday and Marco Botti’s colt has nothing of that calibre to concern him today.
York 2.35 It is almost a year since Gifted Ruler put up a career-best performance to finish a short-head second at Newmarket so his fitness needs to be taken on trust. He has plenty to recommend him otherwise, however, and is open to further progress having been gelded in the meantime.
Sandown 2.50 Dogged has yet to add to his win in a Newmarket nursery in September 2019 off a mark of 80 in four attempts, but he is now just 1lb higher in the weights and should be a lot sharper after his first start for 10 months in May.
York 3.05 A disappointing field for a £22,000 race though all four runners go to post with a chance. Roberto Escobarr has just four runs behind him and should improve for his return to action at Ascot last month.
Chester 3.20 The market leaders have shown their best form with cut in the ground, so it could be worth chancing Side Shot to bounce back from a disappointing run on heavy going at Haydock. Classic Lord, the likely favourite here, was 19 lengths in front of him there but Side Shot’s comeback run on good-to-firm at Doncaster was much better and he looks the value bet at around 11-2.
Serpentine set to rival Stradivarius for Gold Cup
An unexpected obstacle appeared on Friday between Stradivarius and a record-equalling fourth win in the Ascot Gold Cup next week, when Aidan O’Brien added Serpentine, the easy winner of the 2020 Derby at Epsom last July, to the field for the Royal meeting’s feature event at the £30,000 supplementary stage.
The Gold Cup was seen as an obvious target for a Derby winner in his four-year-old season throughout the 19th century, when turf legends including The Flying Dutchman (1850), the Triple Crown winner West Australian (1854) and Gladiateur (1866) were among the horses to complete the Epsom-Ascot double.
Ascot’s two-and-a-half mile contest steadily fell out of favour as a target for a Classic winner after the First World War, however, and if wartime winners at Newmarket are discounted, Persimmon, in 1897, was the last colt to win both races at their traditional venues.
Serpentine’s Derby last summer was one of the strangest renewals of recent years, as Emmet McNamara made all the running on the 25-1 chance and still held a five-and-a-half-length lead at the line after better-fancied rivals attempted in vain to close the gap. He has failed to back up his Classic success in three subsequent starts and next Thursday’s race will be a big step up in trip for the son of Galileo – the sire of the 2016 Gold Cup winner, Order Of St George – who was introduced to the betting at around 14-1. Stradivarius is the even-money favourite while the four-year-old Subjectivist, an impressive winner of the Dubai Gold Cup in March, is his main market rival at 6-1.
John Gosden, who trains Stradivarius with his son, Thady, said on Friday that his runner is in rude health ahead of his attempt to emulate Yeats as a four-time winner of the Gold Cup.
“He’s trying to do five consecutive victories [at Royal Ascot, having won the Queen’s Vase in 2017] and he’s a full horse, not a gelding,” Gosden said. “Geldings can race on a lot longer because they don’t suffer from the distractions of life. This boy’s an absolute riot to be around, he’s always been very entertaining with a great personality. I tend to just let him enjoy himself and as long as he’s enjoying himself, that’s all that matters.”
Gosden’s stable did not saddle a single runner at the two-day Derby meeting at Epsom last weekend but he will send several strong contenders to Royal Ascot including Palace Pier, odds-on for the opening Queen Anne Stakes, and Lord North, who will attempt to repeat last year’s success in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes.
Most of the major contenders from Gosden’s yard will be ridden by Frankie Dettori, his stable jockey, who sealed the award for the Royal meeting’s top jockey for the seventh time with a treble on the final afternoon in 2020.
“He’s an extraordinary athlete”, Gosden said of the 50-year-old. “Naturally he’s more selective [now], there’s no point thinking that if you’ve got a wet afternoon at Brighton then he’s the man to send there, because he’s not. He saves it for the big occasions.”