Don’t be a Dick Turpin

Don’t be a Dick Turpin


Geoff Lester: London – If Royal Ascot is the jewel in the crown of British racing, then York’s Ebor meeting, which starts on Wednesday, is only a few diamonds short.

You won’t find any toppers and tails on the famous Knavesmire over the next four days, but in terms of quality it more than holds its ground and Yorkshire folk are so proud of what they regard as God’s Own County that most local owners would rather celebrate any winner at York in August than lift the Gold Cup at Ascot.

Saratoga is nicknamed “the graveyard of champions” in North America and, similarly, Wednesday’s £1.062-million Juddmonte International, the first of three Group 1’s at this prestigious meeting, had a reputation of being the race in which umpteen equine Davids have slayed Goliaths under a previous sponsorship.

Epsom Derby hero Roberto took the scalp of the mighty Brigadier Gerard – his only defeat in 18 races – in the inaugural running in 1972. And a series of giant-killers emulated his feat over the next two decades, with Rheingold, Grundy, Artaius and Triple Crown heroine Oh So Sharp all biting the dust as odds-on favourites.

While sanity has been restored in recent years, with superstars Frankel and Sea of Stars both on the Juddmonte roll of honour, we only have to go back to 2015 to find 50-1 shot Arabian Queen inflicting the only defeat on European soil on Derby and Arc winner Golden Horn.

Even the legendary, infamous British highwaymen Dick Turpin met his downfall here, being executed at York in 1739, so those punters who believe that favourite Poet’s Word will justify favouritism in the feature on day one might be advised to tread warily if they have their size 10 betting boots on.

James Doyle, the “go-to” jockey this season, with five wins at the top table on his CV already, won’t hear of defeat for Poet’s Word.

Doyle points out that while he dug deep to win the King George over 2400m at Ascot last month, Poet’s Word has shown he is equally effective at this 2000m trip, having toppled Cracksman in the Prince of Wales’s at the Royal meeting as well as coming within a neck of triumph in last year’s Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.

However, I was a founder member of the ROARING LION fan club and won’t be deserting the Eclipse Stakes winner here.

John Gosden’s fears that the Derby trip might stretch Roaring Lion’s stamina proved spot on, but his horse not only overcame traffic problems at Sandown – he was forced to challenge wide by the Coolmore battalion – but arguably his best-ever performance came over this course and distance when he annihilated the opposition in the Dante in May.

Roaring Lion meets Coolmore’s 2000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior for the fifth time – the score is two apiece – and maybe the Eclipse did come too soon after the Irish Derby for Aidan O’Brien’s Newmarket hero.

But whereas Saxon Warrior seems to have lost the stardust so evident on Guineas day, Roaring Lion, only fifth there, has improved by leaps and bounds and his final gallop on the July Course left connections optimistic that he might have too much finishing speed for Poet’s Word.

With the odd exception, I tend to give the handicaps a swerve at York – they ought to carry a public health warning – so my only other bet on the first day will be Coolmore’s KEW GARDENS, who can defy the penalty in the Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes.

The Ballydoyle star at Royal Ascot, where he hosed up in the Queen’s Vase, Kew Gardens then successfully dropped back to this 2400m when capturing the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp. While Aidan O’Brien has only a 9% strike-rate in Britain this season and admits there is a bug in the yard, Kew Gardens has so far steered clear of the problems.

Indeed, if you haven’t backed Kew Gardens yet for the St Leger, I suggest you lump on for the world’s oldest classic BEFORE this race. He showed he has the stamina at Ascot, he definitely has the class and looks a real Leger horse.

Godolphin’s Cross Counter, impressive when beating Derby runner-up Dee Ex Bee in the Gordon Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, looks a better Exacta bet for Wednesday than local hope Wells Farhh Go.

Thursday’s Group 1, the £350,000 Yorkshire Oaks, is worth only a third of what the Juddmonte offers, which is disappointing given that the classic generation, who have beaten their elders for the last four years, are represented by three Oaks winners in Sea of Class (Ireland), Laurens (France) and Forever Together (England).

Gosden’s King George third Coronet looks best of the older horses – this has been her prime target all season – but the weight advantage for the three-year-olds is huge and she might do well to pick up a silver or bronze medal.

I’m a big admirer of Laurens, but she looked to relish some cut in the ground in her two wins in France, whereas SEA OF CLASS, who was value for more than the official winning margin of a neck over Forever Together at The Curragh, is at her element when the going is fast.

Of the three classic heroines, Sea of Class is the one still improving and I expect her to give Newmarket trainer William Haggas, a devout Yorkshireman, further reason to celebrate his 58th birthday.

Having backed LAH TI DAR at big odds for the Epsom Oaks, I was gutted when Gosden’s filly met with a setback and was pulled out, but she returns in the Galtres Stakes and if she is as good as she looked in the Pretty Polly at the Guineas meeting she will blow away her Listed rivals.

Gosden’s STRADIVARIUS cannot be opposed in Friday’s Lonsdale Cup and victory there would seal a £1-million bonus for connections as he has already won the Yorkshire Cup, Ascot Gold Cup and Goodwood Cup this season.

Similarly, BATTAASH, Europe’s best sprinter, looks a shoo-in for the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes. He is quirky and lost this race before the start 12 months ago when getting stirred up, but Charlie Hills this time plans to box him across from the stables in order to shorten the preliminaries.

Finally, Saturday’s Ebor is the highlight for every Yorkshireman, but if STRATUM makes the cut I feel sure the prize will go to Ireland, while across at Goodwood ALTYN ORDA can spring a surprise in the Group 3 Celebration Mile.

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