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Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

Going out on a high as Ebor test rounds off four top days at York

David Carr looks ahead to an absorbing afternoon of racing on Saturday

It's Ebor day after three fantastic days at York
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The day in a nutshell

Yorkshire’s biggest week of the year ends with its biggest betting race of the season – and punters have already had one result.

Stratum has been hot favourite for the Sky Bet Ebor since bolting up at Newbury last month and his backers will get a run for their money after he squeezed into the field by the skin of his handicap mark at the declaration stage.

But now the hard work begins. History suggest he’s less than ideally drawn on the inside in stall four and though this year’s race is worth only half the £1 million that will be on offer next season it’s still an ultra-competitive affair, with all 20 runners rated 102 or better.

Stratum’s trainer Willie Mullins also runs smart hurdler Whiskey Sour, while Roger Charlton looks to have laid out Blakeney Point, who has been well backed and could be sharpened up by first-time blinkers.

The Melrose Handicap, the three-year-olds' Ebor, plus a couple of competitive Group 3 contests and a Listed event render this a tricky card, even before two more tough handicaps bring the Ebor festival to a potentially wallet-emptying close.

But Andrew Balding looks set for a profitable afternoon at Goodwood, where Beat The Bank and Look Around have favourites’ chances in Group races while stablemate Maid Up is 15lb clear of her two rivals on Racing Post Ratings in the Ladbrokes March Stakes – run in memory of the late John Dunlop.

Taking the high road to history?

Scotland had one very minor victory on Thursday – there could be a huge one on Saturday afternoon.

Scotland the racehorse was the first name out of the bucket when the public draw was made for the Sky Bet Ebor (York 3.40) on Thursday, which was no great cause for excitement as the English-trained stayer is among the outsiders.

But Scotland the country ought to be agog for the latest running of the richest Flat handicap in Europe as Nakeeta stands on the brink of history.

The pride of Iain Jardine's yard in Dumfries and Galloway pounced late to take the race north of the border 12 months ago and would be only the second back-to-back winner in 175 years of Ebor history were he to do it again.

And it’s not looking through tartan-coloured glasses to think he has decent prospects of emulating Yorkshire legend Flint Jack, who won this in 1922 and 1923 and was also second in 1921 and third in 1926.

The seven-year-old showed last year's win was no flash in the pan with his excellent fifth in the Melbourne Cup, he's been brought along patiently this season, and hinted that a return to form was imminent when fifth behind Ebor favourite Stratum at Newbury last month.

Jardine gave him one last canter on Friday morning said: "He's had a good preparation and seems fine. I'm happy with the draw and the ground is okay.

"All the boxes are ticked and he just needs a strong gallop to aim at and a bit of luck."

Win and you're in

Stratum may not have secured his place in the Ebor field until Thursday morning, but one horse will have booked a slot in next year’s line-up by 2.30 on Saturday.

Victory in the Sky Bet Melrose Handicap (York 2.25) is potentially lucrative as this is the first of three ‘win and you’re in’ qualifiers for next year’s £1m Ebor.

Record-breaking Mark Johnston is not known for taking his foot off the pedal after passing a landmark and, among the 18 runners he sends out across five different meetings on Saturday, his Making Miracles appears an obvious candidate.

Mark Johnston becomes the most successful trainer in British racing history

He looked a typically progressive middle-distance stayer when scoring over 1m6f at Haydock last month and will be suited by returning to that trip after a good third over 1m4f at Goodwood.

But tread carefully with Mekong. Sir Michael Stoute has had six runners in the Melrose since 2009, most well-fancied contenders, and none has finished closer than fifth.

The City of York Stakes is a different matter. Stoute has won with one of just two runners in the past decade and his Jersey Stakes winner – and Sussex Stakes second – Expert Eye promises to be hard to beat.

Third time lucky?

Zonderland is due a change of luck in the Ladbrokes Celebration Mile (Goodwood 2.05), having found only the high-class Lightning Spear too good in this race in the last two years.

He was beaten just a nose last year, pipped in the final stride, and ran his best race of the year when third at Salisbury last time.

But even with no Lightning Spear this time, the Clive Cox-trained five-year-old still has rivals such as Sussex Stakes fifth Beat The Bank to cope with if he’s finally to make the breakthrough at Group 2 level.

Hopeful of a revival

You don't have to be a Stoke City fan to know that sport can be a fickle business and your time at the top can be limited.

Consider the case of Limato, a hugely talented horse who has run a string of high-class races over the last four years, scoring twice in Group 1 company and finishing second in the Nunthorpe Stakes on this weekend in 2016.

But, rather as with Gary Rowett's boys at the Bet365 Stadium, time seems to have caught up with him and he's dropped out of the top division.

The six-year-old has not shown his former dash in three outings this season and races in Listed class for the first time since his Redcar Two-Year-Old Trophy victory of 2014 when he tackles the Price Bailey Chartered Accountants Hopeful Stakes (Newmarket 4.05).

But, as Stoke are finding, going down in grade is no guarantee you will start winning again and this is no gimme as Limato's rivals include July Cup sixth Dreamfield and Gifted Master, who put up a high-class performance to defy top-weight in the Stewards' Cup at Goodwood.

Musical saddles on in-form hurdler 

Peter Bryan gets back on board Wells De Lune, who bids to complete a course-and-distance hat-trick in the William Hill Cartmel Cup Handicap Hurdle (Cartmel 5.05).

He won an amateur riders' event here in June on the horse, who is part-owned by his father, but not even family connections could keep him the mount next time – it was a lady riders' contest so Jodie Hughes took over.

Bryan's 7lb claim will come in handy on the top weight in a race as competitive as you would expect for the £20,000 feature event on the Lake District track's penultimate day of the season.

His mount has to give 5lb to last month's Musselburgh Flat winner Golden Jeffrey – who could bid to complete the most unusual of big-race doubles for Iain Jardine.

Wells De Lune: bids for a third win on the bounce at Cartmel after this victory last month
Absolutely Fab

Royal Windsor took on a new meaning last year when Fabricate took the Bet & Watch at Winter Hill Stakes (Windsor 6.15) for the Queen at the track’s traditional August bank holiday Saturday evening meeting.

And he’s back to try again 12 months on, having shown himself to be as good as ever when short-headed by the top-class Crystal Ocean at Sandown in April.

Victory would cap a fine week for Yorkshire Oaks-winning jockey James Doyle, though Oisin ‘Roaring Lion’ Murphy will be just as hopeful of a big run from recent Deauville third First Sitting.

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All the boxes are ticked and he just needs a strong gallop to aim at and a bit of luck
E.W. Terms
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