Matt Brocklebank looks ahead to three of the feature races at the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival with bets at 25/1, 20/1 and 12/1.
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Blackberry foragers may be wise to wait another week or two for the pick of the summer’s crop but the 12/1 (General) about BENBATL to win the Juddmonte International at York looks ripe for the taking.
Fellow Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby has taken all the plaudits so far this season, but the sometimes-maligned Saeed bin Suroor is still capable of producing horses fit for the big occasion and he’s often tended to target the major prizes earlier in the year out in Meydan, and those positioned towards the end of the European programme.
It’s 14 years since he won this particular Group One, Sulamani his fourth success in the race in 10 years at the time, but I’m happy to look beyond that with a horse who simply looks underestimated in the market.
Benbatl has always been a classy operator, finishing second to Permian when favourite for the Dante last season, before he was fifth in the Derby the following month.
He landed the Hampton Court Stakes on rattling quick ground at Royal Ascot last season but it looked a case of him getting away with the going there, since when he’s shown a preference for some ease underfoot.
Like so many from the yard, a winter in Meydan was the making of him and he slammed his rivals under Oisin Murphy in the Group One Dubai Turf over nine furlongs at the end of March.
The Queen Anne was nominated as his target after returning to Newmarket but he failed to give his running as the 11/4 favourite, Christophe Soumillon wisely looking after him after it became clear his mount wasn’t too comfortable on the baked surface.
It was no surprise then to see him bounce straight back to form with a runaway win against lesser opposition in Germany last month and that effort should tee him up nicely for York, where that excellent Dante effort over the Juddmonte course and distance (Good to Soft) remains his sole appearance at the track.
The Godolphin four-year-old is sixth favourite at the time of writing and that could change swiftly over the next couple of weeks as plans get set.
Cracksman is a bit of a conundrum and just doesn’t look the same force as last year on his Epsom and Ascot performances, while connections of Enable have recently (worryingly?) raised the possibility of a race at Kempton for her belated reappearance.
Impressive Coral-Eclipse winner Roaring Lion is a significant threat to all receiving 7lb from the older horses but he’s not achieved anything vastly superior to Benbatl’s best as things stand and it’s worth noting just three of the Classic generation have won this in the past 10 runnings.
With doubts around the current crop of young colts he and Saxon Warrior are just passed over, leaving Poet’s Word as the standout danger. He keeps going from strength to strength and is clearly versatile, though he does lack York experience and has had a couple of big summer battles already.
His record going left-handed – form figures of 22212413 – is hardly compelling evidence for the prosecution (five his seven career wins going right-handed), but it does offer a shred of hope to those wishing to oppose the Stoute runner, and Benbatl fits the mould.
Battaash has to be taken on at the current prices in the Coolmore Nunthorpe. He’s clearly among the very best sprinters in the world now following a ballistic display at Glorious Goodwood, but the layers will be out to get him closer to the race as it’s York where he got into a stew before the off last season.
He still performed well enough in fourth but the margins are fine in top-level sprints and, with the favourite expected to drift, it’s worth casting the net a little further to try and look for something which might shorten in the build-up.
Mr Lupton loves York and could run a huge race but it’s hard to see him winning it, so preference is for an each-way bet on JUDICIAL, the half-brother to last year’s winner Marsha.
He won his first three races as a two-year-old for Roger Charlton but has evidently taken a while to fully fill his frame and current trainer Julie Camacho is now reaping the benefit.
He holds the five-furlong track records at Beverley and Pontefract and has looked better than ever in his two most recent starts. He beat fine yardstick Muthmir a neck in the Group Three Coral Charge at Sandown in early-July and is one of just a few in the Nunthorpe who appears to be still on an upward trajectory.
A big field and a strong pace should bring out the best in Judicial and at 20/1 (Sky Bet, 888sport, 16s General) it’s worth chancing he can provide another day to remember at York for members of the Elite Racing Club.
COUNT OCTAVE has been laid out for the Sky Bet Ebor since his good run at Royal Ascot and he’s not to be missed at 25/1 (General).
Andrew Balding’s Frankel colt was denied a clear run up the home straight and ultimately just lost second on the nod when third in the Queen Alexandra Stakes.
The drop back to a fiercely-contested mile and three-quarters looks perfect for the four-year-old and he’s dangerously handicapped from a mark of 105 having been eased 2lb since that last run.
Sixth in one of the hottest St Leger’s in recent memory last September – a race that featured Crystal Ocean and Stradivarius, as well as Coronet and Melbourne Cup winner Rekindling among the others beaten by Capri – Count Octave was again outclassed by Stradivarius in the Yorkshire Cup earlier this season.
The run showed he could act well around York, though, and while he could still be capable of cutting it in Group company, the big handicaps look more realistic targets given his mark has slid down from a peak of 111, with the Melbourne Cup another obvious option later this year.