GC: The big 20 York questions

  • Last Updated: August 20 2014, 15:04 BST

The Knavesmire has welcomed everyone from Dick Turpin to the Tour de France with varying degrees of warmth down the years.

  • Australia: Can sweep past his rivals where it matters most
  • KIngston Hill: Forgive him his Eclipse flop 
  • Tiggy Wiggy: Can step up to six furlongs in the Lowther 
  • Hot Streak: I'm staying loyal to this sprinter 
  • Mighty Yar: Looks big player in the Ebor 

The Knavesmire has welcomed everyone from Dick Turpin to the Tour de France with varying degrees of warmth down the years.

But York's big week still centres around the Ebor Festival and the best track in the north plays host to some of the world's finest horses over the next four days. Racing UK and Channel 4 analyst Graham Cunningham has 20 Questions designed to point the way to profit for the last major Flat festival of the summer.

1: What's the secret to backing winners at York?

How about trying to find the best horse at the right price?

Others will disagree - and York has never been my most profitable punting track - but I don't row in with those who think results there have less to do with the form book than ideal.

Assorted theories have been put forward as to why punting at York can be tough, though we will surely have to wait a very long time for one nuttier than the notion that there was a joggers' path near the inner rail which rendered the ground there faster than on the rest of the course.

2: So the JPT (Joggers' Path Theory) is a load of cobblers?

Is and always was. The riddle of exactly how many joggers it would take to compact the ground in such a dramatic way has baffled me for decades.

And why would this budding Brownlee brigade all plough exactly the same Lycra-clad furrow up the far rail when there is room on the Knavesmire for at least thirty other lanes?

These crucial questions have been rendered redundant given that riders tend to opt for the centre of the track these days and, while York have made free with the sand on certain occasions, it's fair to say the investment in extensive drainage has been money well spent.

Some people still view York as a haven for front runners. But the facts don't really bear that out and the notion that a high draw is a killer on the round course is equally questionable.

The waters can get muddy when it rains hard, but that's hardly unique to York. In any case, the weather forecast for this week doesn't look too threatening and the stage is set for some tremendous sport from beginning to end.

3: The Lads sat down and decided to run Australia in the Juddmonte International. But how good is he?

It's good to hear that the decision was taken sitting down as it's a known fact that these crucial verdicts should never be reached while upright.

And, strange though it seems after two Derby wins, it's still not easy to be sure about just how good Australia actually is.

Strict ratings fans will argue he is the same horse as Telescope on BHA figures and that the pair have just 1lb in hand of Mukhadram, but that clearly doesn't tell the whole story.

Australia raced well away from the pair who beat him in the Guineas and followed a ruthlessly efficient Derby win by trouncing a couple of markedly inferior stablemates at the Curragh.

It isn't his fault that Kingman and Taghrooda have stolen the headlines by beating high-class older rivals since that Irish Derby win, but if Australia really compares with best Aidan has ever trained then this is the stage for him to put on a show and prove it.

Can he do it? Those who think he can will rightly point out that Telescope has never won in Group 1 company and Mukhadram is one from seven at the top level.

And, from what we saw at Epsom, Australia has more than enough speed to shine back at this intermediate distance.

Coolmore have won the International with Giant's Causeway, Duke of Marmalade, Rip Van Winkle and Declaration of War.

Like thousands of others I'm mad keen to see Australia tested properly.

I don't for a minute buy into the theory that lack of race fitness could be an issue after his summer break. But I do buy into the theory that he can win this in style.

And if he can beat Telescope and Mukhadram with the same authority that Taghrooda did in the King George then the calls for a showdown with John Gosden's filly - which have been strangely muted so far - will surely grow stronger and stronger.

4: Where is the value for those who want to oppose the jolly?

Grand horse though he is, I can't help feeling The Great Gatsby is in a bit too deep here. Arod was too far behind Australia at Epsom to suggest he can be backed with confidence to turn the tables and Telescope and Mukhadram look the most likely lads to lay it down to Australia.

The form book says there is nothing between the pair; the market says there is nothing between the pair; and if they are none the worse for their King George scrap for second there shouldn't be much between them in the race.

5: How will the race be run?

Strong and true in all probability. Kingfisher looks to be in as a pacemaker for Australia again and Telescope is a thorough stayer who wouldn't thrive for a test of acceleration at this trip.

Add in the fact that Mukhadram is very comfortable on the speed and this has all the makings of a searching test of what this field can do.

It's hardly a must compelling betting contest, but I suspect Telescope might just get the better of Mukhadram again. And, although the price is nothing to write home about, I suspect that Australia will probably sweep past the pair of them when it matters most.

6: How good a St Leger trial is the Great Voltigeur Stakes?

Historically it's a very good one. And defeat in the Voltigeur is far from fatal for potential Leger contenders.

Milan, Rule of Law and Lucarno all won the Leger after landing the Voltigeur and Encke, Mastery, Brian Boru, Mutafaweq, Bollin Eric and Silver Patriarch went on to Donny glory having been beaten at York.

Time will tell whether this year's Leger winner is in action at York this Wednesday - but a 20-year sample suggests that there is almost a 50-50 chance that he will be.

7: Can Kingston Hill be forgiven his below-par fourth in the Coral-Eclipse?

Very much so. Roger Varian's colt suffered the same fate as other holdup horses when fourth in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown but is far better judged on his excellent second behind Australia in the Derby.

And that Epsom run was a belter. It shouldn't be forgotten that Kingston Hill was forced to use up valuable energy earlier than ideal to offset a low draw that day and it's to his great credit that he stayed on gallantly to beat all bar Australia decisively with the rest well strung out behind.

I flagged him up as possible 6-4 material when he was trading at 5-2 in various places during Friday's webchat and that's the price he is trading at now. There's no doubt Kingston Hill's Derby run is the standout piece of form on offer and he's well capable of winning this. But there's a big difference between backing at 5-2 and 6-4 and the best of the value was clearly snaffled before the final declarations were made on Monday.

It's hard to know what to make of runaway Tipperary winner Granddukeoftuscany, though the fact that he was driven right out when already well clear suggests that "the lads" wanted to see exactly what he was made of with a view to this steep rise in class.

Snow Sky edged home in the Gordon Stakes despite a very coltish performance in the paddock, while Hartnell is a no-frills galloper who should run well and make this a solid test of stamina.

However, if Kingston Hill is to be beaten - and I hope he isn't - then Postponed looks the likely lad.

Luca Cumani feels this Dubawi colt was "a playboy" in his early days but he looked bang on track when trouncing useful rivals at Hamilton and he's long given the impression that he can thrive at a mile and a half.

8: How likely is it that Wednesday's Acomb Stakes will throw up a good horse?

It's a race with a mixed record in recent years, though Fast Company went on to run New Approach close in the Dewhurst and Elusive Pimpernel won the Craven for John Dunlop before going on to finish fifth in Makfi's Guineas.

Elusive Pimpernel's half-brother Prince Gagarin bids to uphold family honour after making the most of the 7lb he received from a couple of winners at Newmarket, while Basateen bolted up despite pulling hard at Donny and Jamaica looked a powerful galloper in forging clear at Galway.

However, some early odds are up and the one who looks overpriced is Growl. Only time will tell if Brian Meehan has another Fast Company on his hands, but Growl quickened up smartly to assert and looked value for more like four lengths than the official two on his Ascot debut. The third and fourth have given the form a solid look and Growl looks a very fair each way bet at 6-1 or bigger.

9: What are the key points to note in Wednesday's opening sprint handicap?

The first is that they look all set to go a blazing gallop thanks to the presence of hard knocking front runners like Caspian Prince, B Fifty Two, Bogart, Magical Macey, Peterkin and Judge n' Jury.

And the presence of so many trailblazers is the potential fly in the ointment for a horse who really caught the eye over six furlongs in the Skybet Dash here last month.

Sea The Sun is the beast in question. Time Easterby's gelding was travelling powerfully in front with some fast horses bang in trouble two from home that day and shaped much better than his final position of sixth suggests.

I wouldn't have maximum confidence if the plan is to blast again. But Sea The Sun remains a name to note when the emphasis is on speed at around this trip and he could run a cracker here provided David Allan doesn't go to war with his next-door-neighbour Caspian Prince in the early stages.

10: Can Tiggy Wiggy stretch her brazen Super Sprint speed to six furlongs in Thursday's Lowther Stakes?

I suspect she can - and if she does then she will be very hard to beat indeed.

Cursory Glance is a serious rivals based on her impressive Albany Stakes win at Royal Ascot and the Queen Mary winner Anthem Alexander will also corner plenty of support if given the green light to run.

But Tiggy Wiggy is a different filly now from the one who went down fighting behind Anthem Alexander at Ascot.

Her Super Sprint win at Newbury - in which she gave plenty of weight and a hammering to useful colts like Haxby and Fast Act - proves beyond doubt that she is an exceptional juvenile.

Some might say she is an exceptional juvenile with a pedigree packed with five furlong performers, but it wasn't just early speed that sealed the deal at Newbury. Tiggy Wiggy kept piling it on right through the final furlong that day and I'm more than happy to believe she can handle this extra furlong and any opposition that stands in her way.

11: What's the best way to approach Thursday's Yorkshire Oaks from a punting perspective?

Betting the farm and making around 25 per cent on your money in the two and a half minutes it will take for Taghrooda to trounce her rivals is one option.

But this looks much more a case of enjoying seeing a special filly do her stuff in what could well be her final start in Britain.

Taghrooda looked very good in the Oaks and even better in the King George, powering clear of Telescope and Mukhadram, and nothing in this field can hope to live with her if she's in the same form again.

 12: Pick the bones out of a massive field for the DBS Premier Yearling Stakes

Not for the first time, the Hannon clan could hold the key with Kool Kompany and Beacon looking well treated at the weights despite their penalties.

Beacon didn't get the best of runs when third in the Molecomb at Goodwood but it would be wrong to rate him an unlucky loser and he meets the runner-up Fast Act on 5lb worse terms here.

It's possible that fact has swayed Richard Hughes in the direction of Kool Kompany. Either way, Kool Kompany looks bound to go well. Granted, he's been a busy boy with three trips abroad for runs in top company since the end of June, but he's a rugged, battle hardened colt with the experience to thrive in the heat of a helter skelter contest like this.

13: Does Sole have the Power to land a second Nunthorpe four years after his first?

Based on the striking acceleration he unleashed in the Palace House and the King's Stand, yes he has.

But Richard Hughes touched on a key issue for Sole Power in Saturday's Racing Post by saying: "At York the speed horses will last that bit longer, which means the gaps will stay closed and holes are less likely to appear."

And other key factors could also come into play. Sole Power was drawn away from the main action in stall 2 when third last year and something away from the wing would suit this time. More importantly, there could be a fair amount of rain in York come the end of the week. All in all, I'd rather accept 11-4 if everything is right on the day than take 7-2 now and worry about the weather.

14: It's 8-1 bar one in the Nunthorpe. How do you split them?

With difficulty. There is precious little between Take Cover, Extortionist and Moviesta on Goodwood form and last year's runner-up Shea Shea is tricky to assess after a rare dull effort at Ascot.

I'm not sure Music Master and the lightly-raced Cougar Mountain are fully equipped for a test like this, but Hot Streak and Rangali both warrant a positive mention.

Perhaps I'm guilty of being overly loyal to Hot Streak after his eclipse in the July Cup, but the memory of how he cruised along prior to landing Haydock's Temple Stakes is far too fresh to desert him. Any appreciable rain would be a real boost to his prospects, while Rangali has hit a whole new level against the best French sprinters of late and would be a fair bit shorter than 20-1 had he shown the same level of form in the UK.

15: Can Cavalryman ride to Godolphin's rescue again in the Lonsdale Cup?

He's been doing so single handedly in pattern races for much of the summer but it's also worth noting that he had to dig deep both at Newmarket and in the Goodwood Cup.

All the credit that will come his way if he can score again will be thoroughhly deserved, but a third Group 2 scrap in six weeks looks a tough enough agenda to consider some strong alternatives.

16: Is Estimate the strongest among them?

Not necessarily. Granted, last year's Gold Cup winner looked as good as ever when worn down by Leading Light in her bid for a royal repeat, but she checked out tamely in the Goodwood Cup and it's hard to believe that the quirky nature of the track was the sole reason for that flop.

She's well treated if she does return to form but Pale Mimosa makes even more appeal.

Dermot Weld has played a very patient game with this mare since she came to York to land the Galtres Stakes in fine style two years ago and two runs this season mark her out as a stayer whose very best days could still lie ahead.

The Melbourne Cup could be on the agenda if she goes close here. And the way that Pale Mimosa sealed matters at Leopardstown last month suggests she can do just that.

17: Pallasator: Inspired Ebor gamble or a hot favourite worth opposing?

Price is everything in situations like this and, for all that we've been here before with Sir Mark Prescott, this year's Ebor favourite will have to run without my money on his back at 3-1.

Those who are old enough to remember the 1994 Ebor will recall that Prezza sent sent out Hasten To Add to justify favouritism under a strong drive from George Duffield.

Pallasator carries clear echoes of Hasten To Add in that he's a giant gelding with just eight runs behind him including a defeat when well fancied for the Cesarewitch.

The similarities don't end there. Like Hasten To Add, Pallasator is a strong-galloping stayer who has been primed for the big day with two runs including one at Ascot. And Pallasator's Ascot run yielded an emphatic handicap win over rivals like the subsequent Glorious Goodwood winner Double Bluff and the Shergar Cup winner Retirement Plan.

Pallasator is clearly still on a good mark with just a 4lb penalty for that success and York looks made for him. But there's a big difference between backing a horse for a big handicap at 6-1 and going in at 3-1.

I'm sure Pallasator will give his followers a great shout. But he's up against a full field who are all in the handicap. It's a near certainty that there are others at much longer odds who are also ahead of their current marks. And with that in mind the percentage call is to try and find them.

"I'm sure Pallasator will give his followers a great shout. But he's up against a full field who are all in the handicap. It's a near certainty that there are others at much longer odds who are also ahead of their current marks."

18: How about a second Ebor winner in as many years for Lady Cecil?

It looks a very real possibility given Mighty Yar's profile.

This grey has only run six times but won a red hot handicap at Newmarket in the spring and looked better than ever when bustling up the highly progressive Kings Fete at York on his latest start.

A 4lb rise for that looks very fair and the step up to a mile and six looks likely to see Mighty Yar in an even better light.

19: And how strong is the local angle with Clever Cookie?

Success for the Cookie Monster and Peter Niven would provide just about the best story in the race and it can't be ruled out given how this smart hurdler has thrived in just four Flat runs.

Defeat in a slowly-run John Smith's Cup is easily excused, but I wonder whether Clever Cookie might have shown his hand to the handicapper a little earlier than ideal when dead heating in a Listed race here in June?

That performance leaves him on a BHA mark of 106 here. It's not insurmountable - but it does look a tough call.

20: So where does the value lie if Pallasator is too short?

I hope it lies with Havana Cooler and Mighty Yar. Luca Cumani has three Ebors on his record as well as one desperately near miss with Glistening) and Havana Cooler lines up on the back of a career best at Goodwood when pipped by Van Percy.

Connections must have been frustrated to see him beaten a neck after edging right there but the silver lining to the cloud is that, unlike the winner, he incurs no penalty.

Like Mighty Yar, Havana Cooler still needs a few to come out to be sure of a run. But both horses look serious dangers to Pallasator and the rest if they do make the final cut.

*Make sure you check out the @sportinglife twitter account at midday on Wednesday August 20 for a social media Ebor Festival-related quiz - free bets with Sky Bet are there to be won!