David Ord was at York on Wednesday to see a £1million dream launched for one of the best-bred horses in training.
The pick of Wednesday's action
This year’s Sky Bet Ebor is worth £1million. It’s the richest handicap in Europe and a cash prize that is normally only available to the blue bloods of the sport.
It might be won by First Eleven – and when it comes to pedigrees he can cock-a-snoop at most. He’s by Frankel out of the French 1000 Guineas winner Zenda, making him a half-brother to Kingman.
In terms of Juddmonte, that’s the bluest of blue.
Victory in the Sky Bet Race To The Ebor Jorvik Stakes booked his place in the Ebor itself and had connections confirming he's going to be asked to defy his pedigree again – and step up to a mile-and-six.
Lord Grimthorpe, chairman of York Racecourse and racing manager to Prince Khalid Abdulla, said afterwards: “You have to bear in mind he’s out of Zenda and she was by Zamindar so there’s speed in the pedigree. But go further back and there’s Dancing Brave and a bit more stamina so there is hope.
"The horse kept on finding here, he was very honest and straightforward. He looked like winning a shade comfortably and then fought off the second’s renewed challenge. It’s very encouraging."
John Gosden already has his route back here in August planned: "He’ll go to Royal Ascot and then the Ebor. They’ve put the money up so you’ve got to run."
He’ll find no truck from the owners.
"How could I not agree with that," Grimthorpe beamed. "I’m so proud of the £1m Sky Bet Ebor. I think it’s great, it’s Yorkshire’s race and we’ve been looking at it for a while.
"We’ve been looking for the right combination in terms of sponsors and found it with Sky Bet. We’ve had a lot of help from people within the industry too and to have a race of this magnitude on the Saturday of Ebor is so exciting. We couldn’t be more thrilled.
"It’s already having an effect. This year’s Sky Bet Race To The Ebor Jorvik Stakes had 18 runners, up from eight last year. It’s a £50,000 handicap in its own right so it’s not to be sneezed at, but the incentive of securing a place in the Ebor clearly worked.
"It’s very important. We want to encourage people to come racing at York and that’s what they've done. It is paying dividends."
First Eleven is the second horse to book his place in the August showpiece, Ghostwatch having beaten him to it by landing the Sky Bet Melrose last season. He’s currently still in Dubai being prepped for a Listed race in Australia which would qualify him for the Melbourne Cup. He’d then be routed back to Newmarket to begin his Ebor preparations.
An Ebor-Melbourne Cup double in the same season... now that's new, even for Godolphin.
Gosden has moved to downplay expectations ahead of Too Darn Hot’s eagerly-anticipated return to action in the Al Basti Equiworld Dante Stakes at York on Thursday.
Last season’s champion juvenile was forced to miss the QIPCO 2000 Guineas following a setback and while back firing on all cylinders, his trainer isn’t expecting him to bring his A-game to the table at the Knavesmire.
"He’s very fresh and very well. I just wish I’d had ten more days with him. I needed that really. But the Dante isn't in ten days, it’s tomorrow," he mused.
"I want to run him to find out where we’re going with him. Stepping up to ten furlongs will tell us whether we’re looking at the St James’s Palace Stakes or the Investec Derby. We’ll learn an awful lot more. There was no point bringing him back over a mile right now."
Owner Anthony Oppenheimer and trainer William Haggas were far from downcast following Frankellina’s narrow defeat in the Tattersalls Musidora Stakes. The scopey daughter of Frankel, you’d probably guessed that, was slowly away and rusty through the first furlong but closed to within a neck of the winner at the line, dead-heating for second with Enable’s half-sister, Entitled.
She was blowing noticeably afterwards and her trainer was at pains to point out how little work he’d been able to get into her this spring.
He quickly diverted questions over whether Epsom was in the frame to the owner who said: “It’s definitely in the picture, but so are some other good races. She’s a lovely filly."
At that moment Lord Grimthorpe broke off the consultations with the team responsible for the fellow runner-up to quip to the owner: “Thanks for the start today, but you really don’t need to do that next time!"
You get the sense they all might need a little to help to keep tabs on Frankellina in the future.
His pedigree suggested 2019 was always going to be Invincible Army’s year and he showed definite signs of living up to expectations with an authoritative win in the Duke Of York Clipper Logistics Stakes.
"We’d have to think about Group Ones only with him and he loves Ascot so the Diamond Jubilee and Sprint on QIPCO Champions Day are where we’ll go," said trainer James Tate.
"We always felt he was improving. His dam, who Saeed Manana raced, didn’t win her Group One until she was four. His sire Invincible Spirit didn’t win his Group One until he was four so we always felt this might be his year and was one of the reasons why we put him away so quickly last term. We could have brought him back for Champions Day but decided to give him best chance for this year and so far, so good."
He’ll meet a familiar foe in Berskhire next month in Sands Of Mali who edged him out in an epic duel for the Temple Stakes at Haydock last year and again finished in front of the Newmarket raider in the Commonwealth Cup a Royal Ascot.
And winning rider PJ McDonald will know all about the task he faces in the rematch.
"Sands Of Mali is bang on course for the Diamond Jubilee and I’m very happy with him. I’m looking forward to taking Invincible Army on again but you’re asking the wrong man about that.
"PJ rode Sands Of Mali in work last week and is better placed than I am,” trainer Richard Fahey revealed.