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One of the finest racecourses in the world takes centre-stage this week, as York hosts it’s annual four-day Ebor Festival.
The weather forecasts showers, but conditions shouldn’t deteriorate too much underfoot, as we have some stellar line-ups to look forward to during the week.
Our resident horse racing expert Tim Peters gives his predictions.
Highlight on the first day is the Group One Juddmonte International Stakes
And in recent years, it has been won by the likes of Postponed, Sea The Stars, Australia and the mighty Frankel.
This year’s renewal boasts a very strong three-year-old division, with the dual 2000 Guineas hero Churchill; St James’s Palace Stakes victor, Barney Roy; and Derby runner-up, Cliffs Of Moher, all engaged.
Churchill had looked bullet-proof with a fleet of impressive performances, but then ran a somewhat underwhelming race behind Barney Roy at Royal Ascot. Subsequently, he was taken out at Glorious Goodwood, on account of the heavy ground, but Aidan O’Brien has seemed happy enough with his preparations since. This is the first time he will try a trip this far, but being a son of Galileo, there is optimism in thinking he will stay.
The Ballydoyle maestro also saddles Cliffs Of Moher. Having lost out narrowly in the Derby itself, he then encountered interference in Sandown’s Eclipse. Having nearly been brought down early on, Cliffs Of Moher did eventually recover, but was a never a factor afterwards, and finished behind two of his rivals here in Ulysses and Barney Roy. He’s clearly better than that, but like stable companion Churchill, he does have something to prove.
I fancied Barney Roy to overturn Churchill in the 2000 Guineas, but the race didn’t work out for Richard Hannon’s colt that day. Since then, he has reversed the form comfortably at Royal Ascot, when landing the St James’s Palace Stakes.
Stamina has been proved too, with a tenacious effort behind Ulysses, in the aforementioned Eclipse. That was a really heroic effort, and he is very much respected, running the same distance, but on a slightly easier track at York.
The other three-year-old in the contest is Shutter Speed. John Gosden holds her in the highest regard, but her run in France was disappointing last time. She does have a course and distance win to her name, but she needs to be back to her best to be a factor here.
Despite a strong three-year-old challenge, it’s four-year-old Ulysses that will get my vote
Sir Michael Stoute absolutely thrives with his older horses, and has demonstrated great patience and skill in placing this improving colt.
Ulysses travelled supremely well in the Group One Eclipse before just fending off Barney Roy, and again caught the eye in defeat to the magnificent Enable in the King George. He was the only horse that day that could get anywhere near the winner, before eventually falling some four-and-a-half lengths behind. That was still a tremendous effort though, and despite dropping down in distance, this will prove no problem to him. York is likely to suit him better, as he travels with such ease in his races.
Prediction: Ulysses to win the Juddmonte at 3/1
The Group One Darley Yorkshire Oaks see’s the girls take centre-stage on Thursday, but it is almost impossible to oppose Enable, who has simply been electrifying under Frankie Dettori.
Her Oaks success at Epsom, was followed up with wins in the Irish Oaks, and then against the older generation in the King George at Ascot. She annihilated top performers such as Ulysses, Idaho and Highland Reel, and I cannot oppose her back against her own sex.
Best of the rest look to be the Roger Varian trained Nezwaah, and Sir Michael Stoute’s Queen’s Trust. The former put up a career best when landing the Pretty Polly Stakes at the Curragh, and now tackles a new trip here. The latter is a Breeders Cup winner, and is better than the bare form suggests this term. She was third in this race last year, but may have to settle for a similar position this time around. I cannot oppose Enable. (Enable win 30/100)
The Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes
The Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes welcomes the top sprinters on Friday, and we arguably have the clash of the week between America’s Lady Aurelia and Battaash.
Lady Aurelia was masterful at Royal Ascot when running away with the KIng’s Stand Stakes in June, and has been working supremely well on the gallops since.
She has so much speed, but then so does the Charlie Hills trained runner Battaash.
The latter created quite an impression when slamming a decent field at Sandown, and then followed up with a similar demolition at Glorious Goodwood.
On a strict form-line with Profitable, there is little between the two speedballs. The Godolphin runner lines-up here again, and may be best of the rest, along with the consistent Marsha.
It’s a race that will leave punters and fans drooling. The betting reflects the dominance of Lady Aurelia and Battaash. Preference is marginally with Lady Aurelia, as she receives 3lbs from Battaash, but it should be a clash to savour, and looks the race of the week.
Prediction: Lady Aurelia to win 11/8
Moving on to the Saturday, and the richest flat handicap in Europe, as the Ebor highlights the card with record prize money of £280,000.
Sir Mark Prescott is in a rich vein of form, and he saddles a fascinating contender in Flymetothestars. The four-year-old has raced only five times, but won three of them, and the ante-post favourite will be contesting his first race on the turf.
His most recent effort saw him finish a very close third in the Northumberland Plate at Newcastle, and he looks to have plenty of scope for further improvement.
Top Tug is one to consider, and that despite managing only twelfth in this race in 2016. He has been in better form this term, which has seen the six-year-old prevail at Goodwood, and run a very respectable fourth at Royal Ascot. My only reservation is that off a mark of 105, he may just be a shade high in the weights.
The Irish have a fine record in the Ebor (won 4 of the last 8 renewals) and Willie Mullins has entered Ivan Grozny, and Aidan O’Brien could run Derby runner-up of 2016, US Army Ranger.
The latter adds some extra lustre to an already intriguing race, but it’s the former that makes most appeal to me.
The seven-year-old was last seen getting brought down at the first in the Galway Hurdle, and hasn’t raced on the flat for over a year, following a fourteen length romp over this one mile six furlong distance.
It may serve as a blessing that he didn’t get far last time out, and Willie Mullins is so adept at landing these valuable big prizes. Ivan Grozny can be ridden from the front, or held-up, and he ticks an awful lot of the boxes. I can see him running a very big race.
Prediction: Ivan Grozny 14/1 (each-way)