York’s flagship meeting has plenty in store as the racing world descends on the city for the Sky Bet Ebor Festival.
The headline race on the opening day of the four-day event is the Juddmonte International, a Group One contest that is one of the highlight of not only the Ebor fixture but of the whole Flat calendar.
This year’s race has attracted a field of just four, but among them is arguably one of the best and most popular horses in training in Aidan O’Brien’s Paddington.
The colt has won a string of Group One events that includes the Irish 2,000 Guineas, the St James’s Palace Stakes, the Coral-Eclipse and the Sussex Stakes and now aims to add a fifth success at the top level to an already stellar CV.
He will face John and Thady Gosden’s Mostahdaf, a four-length winner of the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, plus his stablemate Nashwa and Andrew Balding’s Dante hero The Foxes.
“It looks a fascinating renewal, Paddington is seeking a fifth successive Group One and he’s taking on Mostahdaf, who was so impressive at Royal Ascot,” said William Derby, York’s chief executive and clerk of the course.
“I think they’ve won something like 14 Group races between them and the filly, Nashwa, adds a different dimension and of course The Foxes was so impressive in the Al Basti Equiworld Dante – it’s an interesting shape to the race and it’s filled with quality.”
On Thursday there is a superb race in prospect in the Pertemps Network Yorkshire Oaks, with 10 high-quality fillies declared including Irish Oaks heroine Savethelastdance and Bluestocking, runner-up at the Curragh.
Al Husn, successful in the Nassau Stakes, joins the fray, as does Ribblesdale Stakes winner Warm Heart and Middleton Stakes victor Free Wind.
“I’m delighted, especially as it’s Pertemps first sponsorship of the Yorkshire Oaks and it’s such a fascinating contest,” said Derby.
“The first two in the Irish Oaks take on the older horses, it looks really exciting. Al Husn is a Group One winner from Goodwood and it looks a real highlight of Ladies Day at the Ebor Festival.”
The Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup promises to be a compelling renewal as many of the Goodwood Cup cast reassemble on the Knavesmire, including runaway winner Quickthorn and the Ascot Gold Cup champion Courage Mon Ami.
“It could be a Goodwood Cup rematch! I’m delighted that we have the Gold Cup winner from Royal Ascot looking like he’s coming, that division looks really open post Stradivarius so it will be interesting to see how it shapes up,” Derby said.
“Quickthorn did a similar job in the Lonsdale last year as he did at Goodwood so it will be interesting to see if they let him get an easy lead this time around.”
On the same day the five-furlong Coolmore Wootton Bassett Nunthorpe Stakes is a race worth anticipating, with John Quinn’s locally-trained supermare Highfield Princess bidding to retain the title she won 12 months ago.
She is joined by a host of Northern-based rivals including the two-year-old Big Evs, Mick Appleby’s Royal Ascot and Goodwood star who was supplemented for the race following the latter of those triumphs.
Derby said: “In the Coolmore Nunthorpe Highfield Princess is a real local favourite, she’s trained 10 or 12 miles from the track and she won it last year as part of a hat-trick of Group Ones.
“The interesting addition is the two-year-old Big Evs, with a huge weight advantage, who tries to be the first two-year-old since Kingsgate Native in 2007 to overhaul his elders.
“It looks a really interesting race with lots of Yorkshire strength as well as the rest of fastest horses in the country.”
The final day of the meeting is the home of the valuable City of York Stakes and the namesake of the fixture, the Sky Bet Ebor Handicap, a wide-open contest held on what will likely be a final visit to York for the retiring great of the game that is Frankie Dettori – who also happens to be last year’s winner.
“We’ve got the Sky Bet City of York Stakes as well for £500,000, it is the most valuable Group Two and we’re really trying everything to see if that can be upgraded to Group One status,” said Derby.
“The Sky Bet Ebor is really open, as you’d expect for such a high value, highly-rated handicap. Twenty-two runners and each you could make a case for!
“It’s Britain’s richest Flat handicap and it looks really interesting as to whether Real Dream for Sir Michael Stoute can make amends for us all missing out on poor Desert Crown – that would be an amazing end to the week.
“It will also probably be Frankie Dettori’s last raceday at York so we’ll be looking forward to celebrating that. There’s a great deal to look forward to.”