York Racecourse gets its season underway with the three day Dante Festival taking place this week starting on Wednesday through to Friday.
Prize money over the three days of the Dante Festival has risen for the seventh year in succession, increasing by £50,000 again this year to £1.4m. With a feature race taking place on each day of the Festival, the York season begins with a feast of top quality racing on the Knavesmire.
Wednesday’s £100,000 Tattersalls Musidora is just one of the races this week that offers a six figure sum to connections.
A feature race for three year old fillies, the Musidora has proved to be a greater pointer to the Investec Oaks, with six fillies going on to achieve Classic glory. Typically, fillies from the Musidora return as older horses to contest the Group Two Middleton Stakes on Thursday.
Wednesday also sees the sprinters going to post in the Group Two Duke of York Clipper Logistics Stakes, run over six furlongs. This year’s renewal will see a whole host of top class speedsters battling it out down The Knavesmire.
The Dante, the race so named to honour the last Yorkshire trained winner of the Derby back in 1945, is held on Thursday. This Group Two contest now offers a prize fund of £165,000. The Dante winner has gone on to win the Investec Derby ten times, with Golden Horn the last to achieve that impressive feat three seasons ago.
The British Stallion Studs EBF Westow Stakes for three-year-old sprinters is one of three Listed contests during the Festival to see its prize money rise to £50,000. This race also takes place on Thursday.
Friday’s feature race is The Yorkshire Cup, with £165,000 on offer to the leading stayers over one mile and three-quarters, making it a valuable Group Two “Cup” race. Friday’s renewal is part of the Qipco British Champions Series, the first of five York races that make up a special series of top races in Britain.
Let’s look at each day of the Dante Festival in some depth:
John Gosden hopes Highgarden can use the Tattersalls Musidora Stakes at York as a stepping stone towards a potential outing at Royal Ascot.
Highgarden steps up in class for the Group Three prize after finishing third in a novice contest on her return at Sandown last month and will be bidding to give Gosden his seventh Musidora.
Gosden said: "Highgarden goes to the Musidora. I think she strikes me as a Musidora and Ribblesdale type, but we will see after the Musidora.
"That was a very nice race at Sandown. She got a little caught for toe, but then stayed on and was suddenly running on again at the end. She is a Nathaniel and wants a mile and a half now."
Aidan O’Brien has five of the 14 entries in the Musidora Stakes as he seeks to win the Group Three heat for the first time.
The Ballydoyle handler will choose from Ballet Shoes, I Can Fly, Magical, Sarrocchi and Sizzling.
The Duke Of York Clipper Logistics Stakes will seen the seasonal return of Clive Cox’s consistent Harry Angel. Cox is hoping it will be an ideal prep race for Royal Ascot.
“Obviously he’s got a penalty here and then we’re looking at a similar path (for the season) to last year, once we get to Royal Ascot – it will be the Diamond Jubilee and the rest,” said the Lambourn trainer.
“It will be nice to get a run under his belt. The team are in good form, but I’m sure he’ll improve for the run as well, so I’m very pleased he’s in good order and starting his season this week.
“It’s an important stepping stone to Ascot.”
The last two winners of this race, Tasleet and Magical Memory, should be there contesting the race again while Aidan O'Brien is responsible for no less than seven in the list - Intelligence Cross, Spirit Of Valor, Washington DC, Declarationofpeace, Fleet Review, Murillo and Sioux Nation.
Henry Candy’s Limato and the in-form Kevin Ryan-trained Brando figure among the Duke of York possibles, as does James Fanshawe’s The Tin Man.
Crossed Baton has already won an Investec Derby trial, and now he is set for another, with connections confirming this he will appear in this week’s Dante Stakes on Thursday.
The Prince Khalid Abdullah owned colt made it three wins in four career starts when successful at Epsom last month.
He showed his talent by making all to win the listed race by a head from My Lord And Master with Dee Ex Bee a further length and a quarter behind. The form already has a solid look to it with the second and third both finishing second in subsequent races at the Chester May Festival last week.
Local trainer Tim Easterby runs Well Farhh Go and he would be a popular Yorkshire winner.
The three-year-old was unbeaten in two starts on the Knavesmire last season and will be aiming to make it an impressive hat-trick this week.
Aidan O’Brien has four remaining contenders in Full Moon, James Cook, Kew Gardens and Zabriskie all in the hunt.
Mark Johnston’s Mildenberger will have his Derby credentials out to the test in the Dante Stakes.
Although he is not entered for the Derby at this stage the Middleham-based trainer won last year’s Dante with the ill-fated Permian before supplementing him for the premier Classic, a route connections may well consider again.
Mildenberger made a successful start to his three-year-old campaign in the Feilden Stakes at Newmarket in mid-April.
Jessica Harrington’s Sagaro Stakes winner Torcedor is among 16 confirmations for the Yorkshire Cup on Friday.
Jessica Harrington's six-year-old took the Ascot event, which is one of the first legs in the WH Stayers' Million, and he would need to take this race before going on to the final leg - the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.
Another Irish trainer, Willie Mullins, has left in Max Dynamite and Wicklow Brave, who both ran over hurdles at last month's Punchestown Festival.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*