Views from connections ahead of some of the key races at York on Thursday including the Dante Stakes itself.
Impressive Wood Ditton scorer Passenger is entrusted with upholding Sir Michael Stoute’s fine record in the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes at York.
Stoute has won the premier Betfred Derby trial seven times throughout his illustrious career and last year sent out Desert Crown to triumph on the Knavesmire before subsequently marching on to Epsom glory.
Now it is the turn of Passenger to stake his Classic claims, and having seen the rain scupper his intended outing at Chester last week, the Ulysses colt was supplemented into this Group Two event at a cost of £14,000.
“Passenger was a non-runner at Chester because of soft ground, but should have the perfect ground for him in the Dante,” said Alan Cooper, racing manager for owner the Niarchos family.
“It will be a big step up from the Wood Ditton, with the Dante being just his second start, and we will learn a bit more about him for the experience.
“It’s a stepping stone and we’ll see how he takes it, and Sir Michael will then make a plan afterwards. The hope is he is confirms the potential of the Wood Ditton and we can take it from there.”
John Gosden has won this three times in the past 10 years – including with Epsom hero Golden Horn – and alongside son Thady, will put Epictetus’ Derby credentials to the test following his success in the Blue Riband Trial last month.
“He won over a mile and a quarter in the Blue Riband on his last start and he steps up in trip this time. Hopefully the track and trip will suit him,” said Thady Gosden.
“He’s come out of Epsom really well and fingers crossed he will run a nice race again.”
James Ferguson’s Canberra Legend also has a victory in a key trial to his name, having taken the Feilden Stakes in fine style and the Kremlin Cottage handler is hoping this will give an indication as to how high he should aim the unbeaten son of Australia.
“He was impressive enough in the Feilden and has done everything right so far. He’s ticked all the boxes and his last piece of work was exactly what we wanted,” said Ferguson.
“We’re going there full of confidence, but with the understanding that it is another massive step up. It’s one of the top Derby trials and we’re up against some very good horses.
“Winning a Feilden at Newmarket gives us the confidence we have a good horse on our hands and this is about finding out about how good if everything goes right – whether it is Epsom, Ascot or France.”
Another heading to the Knavesmire with a perfect record is Aidan’s O’Brien’s Continuous, who won a Group Three in France on his final start at two and will bid to give his handler a fifth Dante as he reappears in the hands of Ryan Moore.
“This looks the most significant Derby trial so far in terms of depth,” Moore told Betfair.
“You can obviously make a case for a few given their unexposed profiles and I suppose none more so than Passenger, who impressed me when winning the Wood Ditton and comes here after being taken out of the Dee Stakes last week because of the ground.
“My colt Continuous is also unbeaten, as is the Feilden winner Canberra Legend, and he comes here in good shape, having showed a lot of ability and a very willing attitude when winning both of his races at two.
“He wouldn’t have the stamina-laden pedigree of some, but the way he won his Group Three in France over a mile in testing ground suggests this trip is well worth trying. I think he is decent, but we shall see. Ideally, he would prefer a bit of dig but good ground on a flat track like York should be fine.”
John Murphy’s Ballysax scorer White Birch is another making the trip from Ireland, having seen his Leopardstown form upheld by the runner-up at the Dublin track recently.
“He’s in super form. We couldn’t be happier with him and we’re looking forward to it,” said George Murphy, assistant to his father.
“This is a bigger test again and it will be good to see what White Birch can now do. It looks a very hot race on paper and everyone is going there thinking they have the winner. Hopefully he is good enough, but he is in good shape and we think he will run a big race.”
Charlie Appleby won the Dante with Hurricane Lane in 2021 and having seen Military Order fly to the top of the Derby betting when scoring at Lingfield on Saturday, now looks to add a second string to his Epsom bow with Flying Honours, who ended a fine juvenile campaign by winning the Zetland Stakes in October.
“Flying Honours was meant to run at Sandown last month, but the meeting was abandoned, so we took him for a racecourse gallop at Newmarket instead,” the Moulton Paddocks handler told godolphin.com.
“We were very pleased with how that went and he goes into this in great order.
“We know that he gets this trip, having won the Zetland on his final two-year-old start, and feel that he has the scope to improve again as we step him up over further. It looks a competitive renewal of the Dante and whoever wins will be a leading player for the Derby.”
Andrew Balding’s The Foxes accounted for Flying Honours when claiming the Royal Lodge at two and made an encouraging return when second in the Craven Stakes last month. The Churchill colt could be suited by the step up to 10 furlongs, as could Roger Teal’s consistent Dancing Magic, who was a place behind in third at Newmarket.
A mile and a quarter could also play to the strengths of the King Of Steel, who created a taking impression on debut at Nottingham last year and was then been deemed good enough to take his chance in a Doncaster Group One shortly after.
He has since joined Roger Varian ahead of his Classic season and the Carlburg Stables handler believes he is giving all the right signals in his work at home.
He said. “He was impressive on his first start last year then he ran in the Group One at Doncaster. He has trained like a good horse all spring and we’re looking forward to running him.
“He’s a big horse but light on his feet and we’ll see how he measures up in the Dante, which will give us some direction whether he is an Epsom horse or a horse for one of those races at Royal Ascot.”
Burradon Stakes scorer Dear My Friend and Feilden third Killybegs Warrior both represent Charlie Johnston, while Karl Burke’s Liberty Lane completes the line-up, having chased home Waipiro at Newmarket.
Free Wind will bid to justify the decision to supplement her for the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Middleton Fillies’ Stakes.
It cost connections £11,200 to add the daughter of Galileo to the 10-furlong event and she now has the chance to scoop her third success at Group Two level.
Trained by John and Thady Gosden she was seen just once last season, when galloping to victory in the Lancashire Oaks at Haydock in July, where a bump she received in running did enough to subsequently curtail her campaign.
She now drops back in trip on her return, attempting to enhance a fine record of five wins from just seven starts.
“She has shown good form over a mile and a half to a mile and six (furlongs), but York is a nice, galloping track and we feel it is a good place to start her off,” said Thady Gosden.
“She won up at Haydock, but during the race she got squeezed up on the rail and unfortunately it affected the rest of the season for her.
“But she has been good at home, she has won five out of six on the turf and she has enough speed to win over 10 furlongs. She has always had plenty of ability and this will tell us more where she goes afterwards.”
Richard Hannon’s Aristia is the only Group One winner in the line-up, having taken the Prix Jean Romanet at Deauville last season. She also has a fine record here on the Knavesmire and finished second in this contest 12 months ago.
On that occasion Aristia had to play second fiddle to William Haggas’ Lilac Road and this time the Somerville Lodge handler is represented by Sea Silk Road, who has some smart form to her name including when finishing second in the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot last term.
One of the most intriguing runners in the field is Toskana Belle, last year’s German Oaks heroine, who now begins life in the care of Roger Varian.
As well as Classic success at Dusseldorf, the four-year-old also went down narrowly in the Grade Three Jockey Club Oaks Invitational Stakes at Aqueduct when trained by Andreas Wohler, and Varian is keen to see his new recruit step out onto the racecourse in the UK for the first time.
He said: “She’s a nice filly and has been working well. She has some strong three-year-old form from Germany and America last year, and we’re looking forward to getting her started.
“I think 10 furlongs on a track like York is a nice starting point for her and will give us a good direction moving forwards.”
Rogue Millennium caught the eye when a staying-on third in the Prix Allez France at ParisLongchamp and represents Tom Clover, while Ryan Moore gets the leg up aboard Ralph Beckett’s State Occasion, who was a track and trip scorer in a handicap here during last year’s Ebor Festival.
“She is the lowest-rated in here, but what she does have going for her is her best performance came over course and distance last season and she likes decent ground,” the jockey told Betfair.
“She also goes well when fresh, so if she is primed for this, perhaps more so than the others, then she is not without a chance. She does have a tough task on what we know, though.”
Beckett added: “She is ready for it and she likes the track and the trip. It will be tough, but she’s ready for it.”
Hughie Morrison’s Stay Alert and Karl Burke’s Poptronic complete the eight-strong field.
There could be plenty of pace on show in York’s British EBF 40th Anniversary Westow Stakes where Rocket Rodney attempts to return to winning ways on reappearance.
Trained by George Scott, the speedy son of Dandy Man was an ultra-consistent performer last term, with the only blot on his copybook coming in his final outing of the year when making a raiding mission to France.
A Listed winner in the Dragon Stakes at Sandown last season, he also placed in a whole host of high-class five-furlong events, including when beaten a neck by Little Big Bear in the Windsor Castle at Royal Ascot and runner-up in the Group Three Molecomb Stakes at Goodwood.
Scott reports his charge to have strengthened up from two to three and is eager to see if he retains all the sprinting attributes which made him so successful as a juvenile.
“He was a very capable two-year-old throughout last year and his final run didn’t reflect his season in any way, so we have got to put a line through that,” he said.
“I’ve been pleased with his work in the spring. He’s done very well physically from two to three, he hasn’t grown a huge amount but he’s definitely matured.
“I think there’s always a question mark over precocious two-year-olds that have had a relatively busy season as to how they train on, and you don’t know until they get to the track. But he’s ready to get started and I have a plan for him this season, and this is very much day one.
“It’s a track he has run well at and it looks a very sensible starting point for him. I would expect him to come on for the run, but he’s more than ready to do himself justice.”
David Loughnane’s Walbank was a place behind Rocket Rodney in third when the pair locked horns in the Molecomb last July, with the talented son of Kodiac finishing no worse than third in four outings during 2022 – a CV which also includes a silver medal in the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot.
His Goodwood outing was the final time he was sighted at two and the Amo Racing-owned colt returns following 295 days off the track at the scene of arguably his finest hour, on the course and distance over which he shed his maiden tag in fine style.
“He was a very good two-year-old,” said Loughnane. “He had a slight setback which took a bit of time and we’ve given him every chance. He’s come back a bigger horse and I’m pleased with him.
“He’s in good order and wears a tongue-tie first time, and obviously he’s going back to where he won his maiden and hopefully we get a similar result. He was just outside the time of the last five Nunthorpe winners – he was very impressive that day and the track definitely suits him. He’s a nice horse and one to look forward to.”
Kevin Ryan’s Silent Words went down by a head to the well-regarded Tajalla at Musselburgh earlier this month and is one of two for owners Clipper Logistics, alongside Karl Burke’s Pillow Talk, who won the Marygate Stakes over track and trip at this meeting 12 months ago.
Burke trained the one-two in this last year and is also represented by Looking For Lynda, with Richard Fahey’s hat-trick-seeking Great State and Declan Carroll’s unbeaten Changeofmind adding to the Yorkshire-trained challenge.
Meanwhile, Aidan O’Brien will bid to land a blow for Ireland with Hispanic. The son of No Nay Never won only one of his four starts last term, but showed plenty of class when doing so, romping to an eight-length victory at the Curragh.
“I haven’t sat on him in a race, but he stepped up well when fitted with blinkers at the back-end, winning by a wide margin at the Curragh and running OK in Listed company at Doncaster,” jockey Ryan Moore told Betfair.
“Hopefully he can progress this season and be suited by the better ground he will encounter here. He likes to get on with it and he can go a bit judged on his Curragh win.”
Rogue Spirit (Tom Clover), Katey Kontent (Clive Cox) and Michaela’s Boy (Mick Appleby) are the others engaged in the five-furlong contest.
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