York Ebor Festival 2016 – Day 1 Preview and Tips

Britain loves a good bit of nostalgia. Everything from classic movies to tribute acts gets swallowed up with aplomb and now racing has given it a good whirl by having 13 runners in York racecourse’s Juddmonte International (3.40), the biggest field since 1999 when Royal Anthem beat 12 rivals.

That lucky number might be 13 for Roger Varian and Postponed, who comes here as favourite but with more question marks over him than he has had at any point since the last year. Of course, in that time he’s won five of his last six, including three Group 1’s, and he has looked better than at any point during his career, none more so than when he trashed his opposition in the Coronation Cup with almost disrespectful ease, leaving him with a rating of 124 – essentially marking him down as one of the best horses to the planet.

He drops back down to 10 furlongs today for the first time in over a year, and that is a source of concern for backers of him, but he is now 10 times better (and rated 10lbs higher) then when finishing third in the Tattersalls Gold Cup and that is not the main concern. The big concern is health issues which led to him missing the King George (respiratory) followed by a bug that has gone around the Newmarket yard. However Varian had a winner on Saturday, and from 10 horses run this month, he’s had two winners and a second. At 6/2, he can be just taken on, with defeat meaning lucrative odds in the later season races.

Coral Eclipse winner Hawkbill has to be respected here and looks the most likely beneficiary if the favourite is not on form and Charlie Appleby’s colt is a hugely progressive and hardy horse who should take the beating but there’s a feeling that soft ground really suited him in the Eclipse when the runner up may not have been at his best and the third definitely wasn’t. That said he will take all the beating. Highland Reel is as solid as any horse in the field, but he owes a tremendous amount of his King George victory to tactical ineptitude from the other jockeys in that race as much as Ryan Moore (absent) was aware and Wings of Desire should get closer still here and looks overpriced in comparison.

Mutakayyef, a winner over a mile here, has been much improved this season and was impressive when taking the Summer Mile in great style and he’s been indicating that a return to this trip would do him no harm. He’s one of a few that were tempting prices but the one that catches the eye most is The Grey Gatsby. Kevin Ryan’s charge, third in this last season, has not had the best of luck since landing the Irish Champion Stakes two years ago but he remains a high class horse who was unlucky not to win the Prince Of Wales last season but for failing to get a clear run and when he was third in this last year the ground was too slow for him and it was the same story when he was disappointing in the Irish Champion. The rain at Ascot ruined a realistic chance of any good effort in the Prince of Wales’ this year so his fourth was a fair effort there and Jamie Spencer was guilty of giving his opponents far too much respect in the Princes of Wales’ where the classy stayer Big Orange ad too much in reserve. 10 furlongs at a good pace with fast ground is what he wants.and he’s big at 14’s.

Dariyan is a respected runner here but has ground to make up on Postponed if he’s well and was a blowout latest. Arab Spring has long been touted as a group horse and he quickly proved it before a long injury. His comeback at Haydock, the form of which has been boosted since by Royal Artillery’s good run in a strong Group 2 at Deauville, was encouraging and he ought to improve plenty off that.

My Dream Boat disappointed at Sandown in the Eclipse but is a Group 1 winner at 33’s who has to be respected. Sir Isaac Newton is finally proving to be more tractable and this is more his trip than 12 furlongs but his head carriage can still be a tough high for a tight finish; Exosphere appears as if he’d prefer to be stepped up in trip and the same could be said of Almodvar to boot.

The impending threat of Donald Trump has given Hillary Clinton a huge lead in many polls but not in Idaho, where Donald Trump holds a clear lead. Another Idaho should be holding a clear lead today in the shape of Aidan O’Brien’s colt, who had shaped with major promise as a juvenile last year before running fine races in both the Derby and Irish Derby when he was second on both occasions. He was third and behind the front pairing at Epsom but he suggested improvement when pushing the derby winner all the way to the line and if he’s ready to run to that form today he ought to take the beating despite a break since in the Great Volitgeur (3.05).

Across The Stars didn’t handle Epsom but was quite impressive in the King Edward at Ascot when he beat Houses Of Parliament (a Group 3 winner who reopposes here) quite well after showing a a very good attitude late on in the straight. He should be on the premises again whilst O’Brien has a strong hand completed by The Major General, who was second in the Gordon at Goodwood when Harrison disappointed.

One of the most interesting in a small and select field is Imperial Aviator. Roger Charlton’s son of Paco Boy disappointed in the Prix Du Jockey Club but the ground was simply far too soft for him that day and he’d looked a sure fire Group winner when bolted up in the London Gold Cup. Before that he had beaten Gordon Stakes winner Ulysees (albeit with both at an early stage of the season). He’s always shaped as if he’ll get this trip and being back on this surface should see a much improved performance.

In the Acomb Stakes (2.30), Godolphin attempt to increase their lucrative summer with yet another Group win and new purchase Best of Times at Sandown, who ran right away from his field in the final furlong to win by six lengths. He has to be respected for Hugo Palmer here but the form of that maiden has not worked out well by any stretch of the imagination and he looks short against some progressive and hardy horses here.

Bear Valley is typical of a Mark Johnston 2 year old, having improved from two runner up finishes to take his next two in impressive style, taking an Epsom maiden with ease and then beating two progressive and in form stablemates to the punch in a well contested Goodwood nursery. The style in which he won suggested that he was capable of stepping up to pattern company and he has to be respected.

The China Horse Club have made some waves in European racing over the past two years and it’s no surprise that their quality of stock has improved greatly. The promising Lockheed is just another example and he can go well here. Nicely backed on debut, he only lost out to a highly touted Frank colt on his debut when running on the near side with little cover over 6 furlongs. He was well backed to make amends at Goodwood next time where he won a decent maiden with a strong late surge. This track may suit him yet more and he appears to be a value bet for the same yard that won this last year and in 2011.

Courage Under Fire was a fine second in the Phoenix behind stablemate Caravaggio and should enjoy the fast ground but that was a flattering margin as the winner did it in a hack canter there. Richard Hannon’s Majeste would be a better selection at the same prices, given the strength of his debut form, although off that he must improve although this trip should bring out that in him.

Galactic Prince improved for the trip when improving on his Ascot fifth second time around but maybe the ground also helped with that performance too and this is a far firmer surface. Tommy Taylor’s last time out defeat in a Nursery doesn’t bode too well for his upping in class here. The other interesting one, perhaps most interesting of all, is Syphax of Kevin Ryan’s. He did everything wrong on his debut, having been noisy and green in the paddock before missing the break by a fair distance, but by the end he knew his job perfectly and he won in cosy fashion. The form is low grade by these standards but he has every right to improve a lot on that and he’s got to be considered a big price.

In the opening Symphony Group Stakes (1.55), it could pay to be drawn low with the majority of the pace – on current form at least – being lower drawn. Midway (9), Bowson Fred (11), Baraweez (3) and Boom The Groom (5) are just one a few who like to go forward and taking a lead off an early gallop could prove to be a great help indeed late on.

These are tactics that Line Of Reason nearly pulled off when a poor start proved to be too much to overcome in the Shergar Cup Dash when he was a creditable second considering that he was all but last as the action began to develop just two furlongs out before being stuck on the wide outside there. That was a creditable return to handicap action after a succession of tough tasks in conditions and group-company and if breaking on terms here then he could be a persuasive force at the end.

Of those looking to force the pace, Robot Boy makes the most appeal assuming he can bounce back from a dull run at Ascot. The time before he’d been just behind joint favourite Royal Birth in a key form race at Ascot, and those involved there should be involved once again whilst Lexington Abbey ought to go close if this is not too hard for him.

The Fine Equinity Handicap (4.20) is a nightmarish contest with any amount of possible winners to be found left right and centre over 2 miles on the Knavesmire. Any advantage possible is likely to be a huge boon and the 7lbs that Clifford Lee takes off the back of Nakeeta could take all the difference here. Iain Jardine’s five year old was unlucky with his draw in the Chester Cup and then got no run in the Northumberland Plate afterwards, so he can be forgiven that run. He found traffic again when fourth here over course and distance before bumping into a real improver at Ascot, when early keenness compromised him. It’s becoming clear that he is the sort of horse who needs everything to go right for him but with 7lbs off his back he’s in the form to strike and deserves respect.

A key form race could well be the 2m5f marathon handicap at Goodwood that saw Percy Veer, Poyle Thomas and Oceane go head to head. Both finished in the first four (Percy Veer second, Polyle Thomas fourth, latter third) and there’s reason to think that the last named pair both should have gone closer, with Poly Thomas striking on a long way from home whilst Oceane got no run until the last furlong and a half. This drop down in trip doesn’t necessarily suit any of them but all have form at short and if Oceane can overcome a troublesome draw then he can make amends.

It was tempting to add Rennetti to the portfolio although he will need plenty of pace on from the front end and he was laboured when fourth at Galway, when he should have been fit enough to do himself justice. Another Irish raider, Modem, needs respect after a fine effort in the Galway Hurdle for Jessie Harrington, and Botany Bay being jocked up under Dettori is a sign of serious intent. One has to respect favourite Sweet Selection but others do make more appeal at the prices, like Life Less Ordinary (improving), Eshtihaal (fast ground) and repeater (overpriced following fine Irish run).

In the last (4.55), give another chance to Parys Mountain. He was a disappointment at Goodwood but this course should suit him better and the form of his debut run, when second to the Vintage Stakes second Thunder Snow, makes a mark of 81 seem very fair for him and his chances here. If back to his debut form, he looks well handicapped.


1 pt each/way Line of Reason, 2.00 York (14/1 general)

1 pt win Lockheed, 2.35 York (11/2 general)

1 pt each/way Imperial Aviator, 3.05 York (14/1 Paddy Power)

1 pt each/way The Grey Gatsby, 3.45 York (14/1 general)

1 pt each/way Nakeeta, 4.20 York (11/1 general)

1 pt each/way Oceane, 4.20 York (9/1 general)

1 pt each/way Parys Mountain, 4.55 York (8/1 general) 

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