The Ebor Festival has proved, as always, to be a first class feast of flat racing and that’s after just the first two days. The sight of Ghaiyyath running some top quality rivals ragged in the Juddmonte International was a worthy highlight of any racing festival and that was just the feature on the first day of the four.
The Great Voltigeur Stakes was another cracking race when rounding the home turn on The Knavesmire any one of eight had chances as they formed a line across the North Yorkshire track. Once Pyledriver hit the front though, there was only one winner and William Muir’s son of Harbour Watch made up for an unfortunate, troubled passage in the Epsom Derby to take Group 2 honours here.
Pyledriver was given yesterday by our in house tipster, The Mandarin, along with Ghaiyyath and we have to see how the rest of the week fares for our flat specialist. For the remainder of the week we can look forward to the astonishingly quick Battaash in the Nunthorpe Stakes on Friday and the hugely competitive Ebor Handicap as the feature on the Saturday.
Friday 21st August
Another chance to admire the sheer, unadulterated speed of Battaash. Charlie Hills’ stable star blew the field apart in the King George Qatar Stakes at Goodwood, breaking his own course record in startling fashion, so much so that his two closest rivals, Glass Slippers and Ornate also broke last year’s time but were still 2 lengths adrift of Battaash.
The Dark Angel gelding also set the course record for the Nunthorpe Stakes here last year and in his current mood that record may also be at threat, assuming that the ground does slow up too much with the effects of Storm Ellen.
In a measure of the standing of Battaash among the sprint ranks, third place Ornate who was less than 3 lengths behind in the King George Stakes is available for around 66/1 in the ante post markets at the time of writing.
The main dangers to Battaash at 3.15 on Friday are likely to be Tim Easterby’s Art Power and Simon & Ed Crisford’s A’ali. Art Power bolted up in the Palace Of Holyroodhouse Handicap at Royal Ascot off a laughable mark of 97 in June and as that run was on good-soft ground he can continue to progress from the Group 3 Lacken Stakes at Naas last month.
A’ali has also found his feet in his last couple of runs, landing the spoils at Sandown Park in the Coral Charge before a trip across the Irish Channel to collect the Sapphire Stakes at The Curragh. He will need to move on again to take the shine off Battaash’ season but won’t be inconvenienced by the softer going.
Despite the threat of fallout from Storm Ellen pouring water onto Battaash’ fire, so to speak, it is hard to look past Charlie Hills’ stable star who seems to have improved again at six and is certainly a more mature horse in the preliminaries. The absence of crowds so far this season has surely had a beneficial effect on Battaash and he makes a worthy favourite even if his course record set last year is likely to remain intact.
Saturday 22nd August
Thanks to Sky Sport the Ebor Handicap is now the most valuable flat handicap race in Europe and has a long history having been staged on The Knavesmire since 1843. However, in line with most racing after the devastation that has been wreaked since Covid-19 brought many sports to an abrupt halt, prize money has been reduced this year though the winner still bags a not inconsiderable £150,000.
The race itself is run over a distance of one mile, five furlongs and 188 yards. That sort of staying trip brings into play some dual code performers such as Nicky Henderson’s Verdana Blue and Willie Mullins’ True Self.
Verdana Blue has run at the highest level in the National Hunt sphere, including a fifth placed finish in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last year. The eight year old is yet to win on the flat for Nicky Henderson but cannot be underestimated and will be fine on softer ground.
True Self, by contrast, has plenty of winning form on the flat though has yet to score this year with her latest run in the Munster Oaks at Cork seeing her finish in a creditable fifth. She finished sixth in this race last year and will be looking to improve on that.
However, it is two last time out winners that catch the eye for this lucrative prize and both hail from in form trainers. Roger Varian is represented by Fujaira Prince who made no mistake at Royal Ascot when storming home clear of the field by a wide margin in the Copper Horse Handicap. The six year old grey has to shoulder an extra 4lb for that easy victory but won’t struggle with the cut in the ground and has to be taken seriously from Roger Varian’s crack squad.
William Haggas must have high hopes of success here with Pablo Escobarr, another given by our in house tipster, The Mandarin, when a change of tactics in the Queen’s Plate Glorious Stakes at Goodwood proved a shrewd tactical move as the four year old Galileo gelding swept through late to take top honours.
Further rain from the lasting effects of Storm Ellen could play into the hands of Alan King’s Royal Ascot scorer Scarlet Dragon and he has had more time to recover for this race than after his run at Haydock too close to the Royal meeting and must enter calculations.
The vote goes to William Haggas’ charge, Pablo Escobarr whose change of race tactics payed dividends last time out with jockey Tom Marquand developing a productive relationship with the highly regarded Yorkshire trainer based at Headquarters.
This preview has been brought to you by our regular correspondent, Hector Steiff