Wednesday saw the start of York’s Dante meeting, with the highlight of the opening day being the Musidora. This years renewal went to John Gosden’s Star Of Seville who idled a bit in front, but battled on gamely to hold off Aiden O’Briens Together forever in receipt of 4lbs. It’s form that rarely figures prominently in the placed horses of the Oaks and I see this year as no different. The first two home are obviously high class fillies, but I felt they should have drawn further clear of Charlie Hills’ Doncaster maiden winner Pandora than they did if the form was to be top class. Given how O’Brien’s fillies have improved for a run this year, I would expect Together Forever to end up as the best of these, but races such as the Ribblesdale rather than the Oaks might end up a more realistic target for either/both of the first two.
I will pretty much pass over the Duke Of York Stakes as a pointer to the big Ascot group one sprints, nothing to see here in my opinion. Of more interest was the performance of Areen for Kevin Ryan in the 5f 2yo Novice race. Beating Ravenhoe 1 1/2L in receipt of 10lbs doesn’t mark you down immediately as top class, but he looked a horse of substance and was well backed for his debut at a track where Ryan often introduces his better 2yo’s, he will surely go forward.
Thursday saw the Dante itself, traditionally as good a Derby trial as there is (for the winner at least), won in convincing style by Golden Horn. Run at a solid pace in a good final time, this years race does appear solid form, it also confirmed that at this point in the season, the O’Brien yard have little to offer in the middle distance 3yo colt division barring Hans Holbein whom we saw at Chester. There appeared little in the way of excuses for the beaten runners and I would not seek to make any, the Derby is not a race in which to make excuses for beaten Dante runners. Quite sensibly, the winner has been supplemented for Epsom (there is only ONE Derby), but connections were so keen per race (and for a while afterwards) to favour the French ‘Derby’ over the shorter trip that I have concerns about taking a short price for Epsom. It might just be that there is not ‘much’ about this year in this division, but it should never be underestimated how demanding a task it is to truly stay the 1m 4f at Epsom at Classic race pace. He is clearly a worthy favourite, but I can’t help feeling there will be plenty of ‘better’ 7/4 pokes over the summer months…. The 5f listed sprint for 3yo’s saw a decent performance from John Gosdens Tendu to run second after an extremely sluggish start and a return to 6f will surely suit, but her starts are getting progressively slower and she could not be backed with any confidence at group level until she proves that she isn’t going to give such starts away to her opponents on a regular basis. It was another little boost for the form of the ‘Limato’ race at Ascot which already looks they key form for the Commonwealth Cup at Ascot.
As befits tradition, Friday was Yorkshire Cup day and this years renewal was truly run and fell to Sir Michael Stoute’s Snow Sky who appeared, to my eye at least, to blow up at the distance but battle on bravely to beat Brown Panther (in receipt of 5 lbs). The winner appears very ‘straight’ in front to me and fast ground is likely to be essential to his chances wherever he goes. Any Stoute horse winning first time up this year has to have his performance marked up. Despite only losing by 1/2L carrying a 5lb penalty, I was a little disappointed that Brown Panther could not get past Snow Sky late when the latter appeared to take a blow, perhaps genuine good ground would suit him better, but the fact that 3rd placed Havana Sky was closing on the front pair again late after having been readily left behind leaves me feeling the form is not totally satisfactory.
It has been apparent for the last couple of years that the Hannon stable don’t ‘ready’ their 2yo’s first time out in the way that they used to and 2nd time up is much more the time for theirs. This was never more evident than with the performance of King Of Rooks in division 2 of the 6f 2yo maiden at Newbury. Turned out just 6 days after running a nice 3rd in what looks a good maiden at Ascot, he looked a different proposition here, travelling strongly before quickening right up and drawing clear on the good to soft ground. He looked a proper tool, but his action did suggest the ease in the ground was a help and he was never stronger than at the finish of the 6th furlong. We should find out more if he takes up his engagement in the National stakes at Sandown on Thursday evening, if he can match the 5f speedsters on quicker ground there, he might just be ‘a bit good’.
Most of the interest on Saturday was focused on Newbury’s Lockinge meeting. A smooth galloping performance from Telescope saw him cement his position at the top of the market for the Hardwicke on ground that had dried to good. Ryan Moore received criticism for his ride at HQ which was clearly wrong, like most of Sir Michaels he just blew up, this will have put him spot on and he is very much the one to beat on decent ground next month. Adaay provided another boost for the ‘Limato’ race form in the Listed sprint, but the race that interested me more was the 1m 2f London Gold Cup. This is traditionally a very strong handicap for improving 3yo’s (check out last years result if you doubt that) and this years renewal went to Roger Charlton’s highly regarded and well backed Time Test. It would appear unlikely though that handicaps will remain an option for him as he would appear to be Listed/Group race bound, so perhaps the performance of 2nd placed Dissolution is of more interest. Let’s be honest, he is not 100% straightforward, doesn’t do anything in a great hurry and appeared to benefit from the refitting of the visor which saw him break his maiden at Goodwood last year, that being said….. he did ‘walk into one’ here and was never stronger than at the finish, a step up to 1m 4f wouldn’t worry me or a big field 1m 2f handicap run at a strong pace with a stiff finish. He is definitely on the radar for Royal Ascot and Newmarket’s July meeting. Night Of Thunder did no more or less than he should with a narrow win in the Lockinge, but it’s form that leaves me totally cold with regard to future group 1 mile races. Personally I thought the performance of 4th placed Integral much more interesting on her seasonal debut, she will continue to be the one to beat when back against her own sex. It is to the credit of the placed horses in the 1m 2f listed 3yo fillies race that they were all able to come from off the pace in a steadily run race and the trouble in running for favourite Pamona leaves the result a little unsatisfactory, but there was no denying the tremendous impression made by Crystal Zvezda, a half sister to Crystal Capella and Hillstar she looks out of the same top drawer and it has to be significant that even the normally reserved Sir Michael was talking of her in the highest regard immediately post race. Wherever she goes, you wouldn’t want to be opposing in a hurry. Over at Newmarket, the King Charles II stakes looked a fair renewal and is often a good guide to the Jersey Stakes at Ascot, neither of Tupi and Latharnach would look out of place in the line up.
Monday saw some nice fast ground at Windsor and once again Clive Cox’s Soapy Aitken took the eye with how he traveled. He still looks green as grass, but has absolute bundles of pace to burn, he dismissed solid yardstick Silver Wings with ease whilst spending most of his time having a good old look around. I’d be all over him in a race like the Windsor Castle, he’s speed, speed, speed.
Tuesday was Tuesday…. little of much interest apart from Sir Michael Stoutes Grand Inquisitor who ;landed the 1m 1/2f maiden at Nottingham in great style. A note of caution is required as market rival Maybe Definitely clearly under performed, but he looked a different animal to the one seen previously at Newbury. He was very straightforward this time and did everything right, the time was good and he falls into the proverbial ‘could be anything category’.