The three-day Dante Festival takes centre-stage at York Racecourse this week with such as the Duke Of York, Musidora, the Yorkshire Cup and the Dante all ahead of us.
There will be more clues for next month’s Epsom Classics, with this week’s action on the Knavesmire often a stepping stone for glory on the Downs in the first week in June. And, of course, there will be plenty of familiar faces to enjoy, such as super stayer Stradivarius later in the week.
I’ve picked out five runners to keep a close eye on. You can watch ever race race at the meeting live on Racing TV.
Trainer: John & Thady Gosden. Race: Tattersalls Musidora Stakes (Wednesday, 3.35pm).
A 60,000gns purchase, the daughter of Sea The Stars is the current 7-2 joint-favourite for the Cazoo Oaks along with the Aidan O’Brien-trained Tuesday.
A narrow winner at Wolverhampton in November, she took a big step forward when slamming her rivals by nine and a half-lengths at Sandown last month.
This is clearly her stiffest test to date, but the manner in which she quickened away at the Esher track marked her out as an exciting prospect. She is fancied to take the step up to Pattern company in her stride, with John Gosden having already tasted success six times in this event.
Trainer: Sir Michael Stoute. Race: Al Basti Equiworld Middleton Fillies’ Stakes (Thursday, 2.25pm).
Highly regarded at Freemason Lodge, Noon Star lost nothing in defeat when second to subsequent Oaks heroine Snowfall in last year’s Musidora Stakes, but she disappointed on her final start last term when only sixth in the Ribblesdale.
Having pulled hard, she failed to sustain her challenge in the closing stages and the form of that race has also taken a few knocks since. However, this four-year-old season could be the making of her.
She scrambled home in the Listed Nottinghamshire Oaks last time out, but that was a messy event with just the four runners and she again was keen. This looks the campaign where she can really make her mark in Group company and she is taken to come out on top in this event.
Trainer: Sir Michael Stoute. Race: Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes (Thursday, 3.35pm)
A general 6-1 chance for the Derby, Desert Crown has the makings of being a serious contender for the Epsom Classic.
Sir Michael Stoute has already tasted success in the Dante on four occasions and he will be hoping that his charge can become the 11th horse to complete the Dante-Derby double.
A 280,000gns purchase, Desert Crown was a sumptuous winner on debut at Nottingham in November, travelling powerfully into contention before powering clear over an extended mile.
Given his pedigree, he will relish this step up in trip. The likes of Magisterial, El Bodegon and Bluegrass are all serious players, but the manner of Desert Crown’s victory at Nottingham earmarked him as a potential superstar and he can take the next step on the Derby trail with victory here.
Trainer: Bryan Smart. Race: British Stallion Studs EBF Westow Stakes (Thursday, 4.10pm).
Lots to like about his debut win at the Dante meeting last year, when he showed a fine turn of pace to get up close home. Bryan Smart’s charge then finished an excellent second in the Norfolk Stakes, beaten a quarter of a length behind Perfect Power which highlighted his latent ability.
Things have failed to go to plan in two subsequent starts. He pulled hard in the July Stakes when well-held and he was very disappointing at Ayr in the Harry Rosebery. However, it is too early to forget that initial promise and he's back on the Knavesmire. He is deeply respected on his seasonal return.
Trainer: Owen Burrows. Race: Longines Irish Champions Weekend Handicap (Friday, 5.20pm).
The final race of the meeting could feature a filly well ahead of her mark. Meredif was slow to get her act together for Owen Burrows, sustaining a small injury when well-beaten on debut at Wolverhampton, before once again failing to justify favouritism at Nottingham in July.
However, she looks a filly blessed with plenty of speed and she showed a good attitude to open her account at the third time of asking at the backend of last term, keeping on powerfully to score readily. Owen Burrows is operating a 75 per cent strike-rate in the past two weeks and off a mark of 79 on handicap debut, she is taken to continue that rich vein of form.
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