Ask the person in the street about Festivals, and you’ll probably get replies of ‘Glastonbury’, ‘Reading and Leeds’, ‘V-Festival’ and the Isle of Wight. However, for us in The Great Game of Racing, we have already had Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood and now we have one of the summer’s highlights, the York Ebor Festival.
The next four days over the Knavesmire are amongst the best of the summer and the first day headliner is the Juddmonte International (3.35), which should be ferociously contested. There are many storylines in the race but Round 3 between Barney Roy and Churchill is as good a reason to get excited as any, with Aidan O’Brien’s Guineas winner attempting to bounce back from his flat performance in the St James’s Palace at Royal Ascot when fourth last time.
That was clearly not his running then, and a return to his Guineas form would suggest a titanic battle between the two. He hasn’t shaped as if this trip would be an issue – for all he’s not cried out for it – but it’s worth remembering that he had everything go in his favour at Newmarket, a scenario which doesn’t look likely to occur there.
Barney Roy had everything go against him but after showing his true colours at Royal Ascot, he has since stepped up in trip to 10 furlongs and was second in the Eclipse to Ulysses, losing by a nose after running very keenly early off what was not the strongest pace. The Knavesmire ought to suit him more than Newmarket, Ascot, or Sandown especially with the undulations in the home straight, and he can still take another step forward after just five runs.
Ulysses, the smooth travelling winner that day, has since finished fourth in the King George when the testing ground may not have suited him as he was a fine second to Enable and the three, if all running to their best, ought to be very closely matched today. Barney Roy needs to settle better than he has so far, which could be a problem with a lack of pace, but he may prove to be a better horse than Churchill and he has also avoided the hard race that Ulysses had in the King George.
Cliffs Of Moher was badly hampered early on in the Eclipse, nearly coming down as the race was getting started, and one could say he did well to be fifth that day. The Derby second would not have enjoyed the slow pace, although he did not appear to have any obvious excuses after that and the form of the Derby has taken some blows since which suggests he needs to improve still here.
The lack of a confirmed pacemaker or front runner means we could be seeing a test of speed here too, which might play against a horse who gets further (for all that he is not lacking in speed). Decorated Knight’s improvement ended in the Eclipse, but just twos tarts ago he was an excellent second in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, form that would give him a favourite’s chance here.
Shutter Speed is the only horse to have beaten Enable so far – that might be a quiz question one day – and she was very impressive here when winning the Musidora Stakes. Sent off a strong favourite for the Prix de Diane, she travelled beautifully in the race but didn’t appear to get home, which was puzzling given how strong she was at the end of her earlier two victories this season. If she underperformed there we have not been given one, but it’s interesting to note she now steps up again and perhaps she could be ridden more quietly today with new cheekpieces. My Dream Boat continues to run well, but he was outclassed in the King George and would want more rain.
The Great Voltiegur (3.00) also looks to be a classy renewal, with Derby third and Irish Derby second Cracksman a worthy favourite. This uncomplicated track ought to be a godsend for John Gosden’s colt and he should take the beating, but bookmakers are also well aware and he is very much a straight shooter’s punt at evens.
Mirage Dancer has been crying out for a step upto this trip, finishing fourth in the Dee Stakes and then a closing third in the Hampton Court Stakes, and there’s no reason for him not to give the favourite a race on either of those formlines, having been all at sea around Chester before then being tapped for toe at Ascot in the latter stages.
Aidan O’Brien had the 1-2 in the race last year and he had a decent chance in the shape of Venice Beach, who disappointed in the Derby but knuckled down to get the better of eventual Derby winner Wings of Eagles in the Chester Vase (Count Octave fifth) beforehand with a toughly professional performance that impressed Ryan Moore. His Epsom showing was a bit puzzling but he bounced back with a fine third in the Grand Prix de Paris when he was just behind Permian and Shakeel.
Email readers were encouraged to back him before today with the advice that he would be the choice of Ryan Moore and he could yet go off shorter.
A strong gallop looks like with Douglas MacArthur in the field, and he has to be respected having gone a ferocious pace in the Derby before managing to be seventh. However, his limitations looked exposed when he was fifth, ridden much more sensibly in the Irish Derby.
Spanish Steps was given a fine ride by Seamie Heffernan to deny his stablemate Johannes Vermeer in the Ballyroan Stakes with some established older horses in behind and neither should be given too much rope from the front in what is a select, but small seven runner field. Count Octave appeared to be just outstayed in the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot but that form has been shown to be much stronger than the bunch finish suggested. This course ought to suit and he could take a hand. Khalid is consistent and will enjoy the better ground he gets here, and Atty Persse is better than he showed at Newmarket last time (although he will have to be).
The Acomb (2.25) has the making of a strong contest with the front three in the market of major interest. De Ex Bee was well liked by Mark Johnston and co before he made an extremely taking debut at Goodwood, starting quickly, taking the race by the scruff of the neck and always having enough in hand for a comfortable victory with the experienced runner up more than seven lengths clear of the third.
Two horses have come out and won since and the lefty entries he has in the Champagne, Beresford, Royal Lodge, and Dewhurst make for exciting reading.
He faces a good yardstick in the chosen Ballydoyle presentative Fleet Review, who has progressed markedly with each of his four starts. His two wins are the races to focus on, and both have been taking, the latter an all the way success at the Curragh when he beat a previous winner giving him 4lbs. The second had previously given a stone to a subsequent Newbury Listed second, so the form stacks up very well and it’s not impossible he could improve again.
There’s a good yardstick in James Garfield, who was one of nine horses who couldn’t hold a candle to Expert Eye in the Vintage Stakes, although he ran very creditably to be fourth, just behind the decent yardsticks Zaman and Midenberger. He lost third in the last stride and sets a decent standard to aim at here, making him a tempting each/way selection. Wells Farhh Go made the most appeal of the rest.
The festival begins with the traditional curtain raiser, the Symphony Group Handicap (1.55). It’s fiercely competitive as one would expect with any mount of likely contenders but it could pay to give Shamshon another chance. He was terrific at Newmarket’s July meeting when he came from the rear to take a well contested event but his blindfold was slow to come off at Ascot when he could never get into a race that was over from the start for him. Three of the first tour raced prominently day and if he gets off on better terms today he’d have to be given a chance off a mark of 90, just 3lbs higher than his Newmarket win. That race has worked out really well and he’s drawn around pace with three front runners drawn near him in stall 6 so he should have ideal conditions.
After the cameras have gone, the Fine equinITy Handicap (4.15) brings the stayers to the fore – although they’ll have bigger races this week – but this is a good way to start. Many in here, especially last year’s Ebor second Shrewd and Penglai Pavilion, are extremely well handicapped if at their best but there’s questions a plenty over the pair of them. Seamour (fifth in Ebor last year, also 2nd in Northumberland Plate), and Oceane (won this last year off 7lbs lower mark) need serious consideration. It could pay to go for something in form and My Reward fits the bill. After his seasonal reappearance, he has since then won a valuable Ripon handicap, was a fine fifth in the Northumberland Plate, and then came within 75 yards of taking a valuable Goodwood handicap where Platitude was sixth. He has been upped just 1lbs and he can go well if repeating that effort from the front but I’m not confident enough to put up as a tip.
The Betway Nursery (4.50) is even more difficult but Zap could be the best handicapped. He overcame a slow start on his debut here but was a taking win before finishing a fair third in the Woodcote Stakes at Epsom. The winner De Buryne horse has since won a Listed race at Deauville whilst second Cardsharp has since won the July Stakes, so the form stands up very well given he manged to get within four lengths of the winner that day. He was a disappointment at Pontefract but was beaten by a Group placed horse in Zaman, a Group 1 winner in Unfortunately, and a Listed winner in Izzy Bizu. A mark of 90 looks very reasonable and so does Adam MacNamara’s 3lbs claim. Skybet are 11/1 for 5 places.
1 pt win Barney Roy, Juddmonte International (3.35, 11/4 general)
1 pt each/way Shamshon, 1.55 York (14/1 Bet465)
1 pt each/way Zap, 4.50 York (11/1 SkyBet)
1 pt each/way Venice Beach (12/1 bet 365, 10/1 generally, Monday)