A new hat and an improved toilet block, but a very familiar feel to proceedings as racing returned to York on day one of the Dante Festival.
By Matt Brocklebank, York
The dawn of a new season on the Knavesmire and very much a case of, as you were.
Other than the newly-named, better-equipped Clocktower Enclosure – complete with spacious, twin toilet blocks lovingly crafted from the same Durham-sourced brick as the original listed building on the centre of the course – there was an unerringly familiar feel to proceedings on day one of the Dante Festival here.
Inclement weather which seemed to change alarmingly by the minute, Mick Easterby clad in walking boots tapping the rails in the pre-parade, and winners out on the quick, well-kept track for Richard Fahey, Godolphin and expat Yorkshireman William Haggas.
For all that “the world’s best sprinter” Harry Angel did look the business in defying a Group One penalty to win the Group Two Duke of York Clipper Logistics Stakes for the affable Clive Cox, it was the Haggas-trained Give And Take’s Tattersalls Musidora Stakes success which garnered the most intriguing post-race reaction.
Haggas, tilting his head to one side and looking typically thoughtful, suggested his Oaks entry could make a swift reappearance across the English Channel as early as next week, rather than take her chance over the extra distance of the Epsom Classic. Before leaving the door well and truly ajar for a rethink.
On the one hand, he offered: "I have her in the Prix Saint-Alary (at ParisLongchamp). I'm going to look at that. I know it's quite soon, but I'm not convinced about the Oaks.”
As if grappling with a mixture of his own ideas and those of the horse's owner, in the same breath Haggas adopted a completely different stance.
“There is only one Oaks, though” he said with a wry smile. “And if Mr Jones wants to go for it, then we will."
Step forward a thrilled owner-breeder Mr Nicholas Jones, who fell short of using either the words “bear” or “woods”, but left his audience all but convinced we’ll be seeing Give And Take in the Investec-backed contest in a fortnight’s time.
“She’ll remain in both races at the moment and we’ll discuss it, but it’d be lovely to have a runner in the Oaks.
“I take instructions from my wife, my trainer and everybody else, but the Oaks is the Oaks and we’ll see who decides.
“She’s from a great staying family, the dam’s a full-sister to Fame And Glory. And Legatissimo was a cousin of this one and she only got beaten a short-head in the Oaks after winning the Guineas.
“I’ve always been sure about her getting a mile and a half than William has, I think that’s because he says she’s always shown quite a lot of speed. But I’m looking at the dam and that family – I mean, Fame And Glory won the Ascot Gold Cup.
“It’s a high-class problem to have, anyway.
“I haven’t had many runners at York but she’s my first winner. It’s all very exciting.”
One man rarely spotted getting over-excited is Fahey, who went all ska band in sporting an evidently lucky new fedora, and ended what he later described as “his trickiest-looking day” with three winners.
They came courtesy of Clubbable, who could now be aimed towards the Sandringham, George Bowen, who should almost certainly get into the Wokingham after his six-length demolition job, and expensive juvenile breeze-up purchase Charming Kid, who looks a potential for either the Windsor Castle or the Norfolk.
The recurring theme is obviously Royal Ascot and with the Norfolk now carrying 'win and you're in' status for the inaugural Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, it’s no surprise to hear the trainer leaning towards that target.
Harry Angel undeniably heads to the big meeting with the brightest prospects of doing the Dante Festival/Ascot double, and it was slightly surprising to see him still available around 3/1 for the Diamond Jubilee Stakes in light of his comeback defeat of Brando.
He has, however, never won at Ascot. His career record there reads 2224.
“I think that’s just a fluke really,” says Cox.
“I wouldn’t read into that too much.
“He’s really grown up mentally. We know he’s very good, we just need to get him there in good form.
"He’ll come on a lot for today."
York can never be accused of standing still from year to year - the evolution of the Sky Bet Ebor testament to that this time around - but those Yorkshire folk who claim they "don't like change" were given a warm and familiar 'welcome back' by the county's premiere racecourse this afternoon.