It's Dante day at York but not as we know it as Derby focus is old news
When is a Derby trial no longer a Derby trial? It is a question most Classic preps have faced at one point or another as fashion has moved in another direction for a time, but the Dante has always been up there with the Guineas as a race whose efficacy as a trial was sacrilege to question.
But the Covid-19 pandemic has affected a lot and not even the Dante is immune. How effective a trial can it really be if run after the Derby, Irish Derby and Prix du Jockey Club? Well it cannot be a trial as such anymore, but it is a reflection of just how important a race York's usual 'warm-up' is that it is deemed worthy of running without the races for which it is usually a stepping stone.
The Dante is important enough it stands up on its own.
Thursday's winner will almost certainly shorten for the Juddmonte International – over the same course and distance next month – and the lack of a Derby to come may even benefit the winner.
Seven of the last ten Dante winners have registered a career-best Racing Post Rating at a mile and a quarter, and that includes Golden Horn who won a Derby and an Arc and yet posted his peak figure in the Coral-Eclipse.
In this 'same same, but different' season in which everything feels familiar and yet also out of place, the Dante will likely do what it always has done and point to a very talented colt. Sir Michael Stoute's Highest Ground is an obvious candidate and his wise old trainer would never allow anything to make him rush a horse. So Highest Ground heads to York five days after the Derby to take the next step on what has been an encouraging start to life as a racehorse.
Oisin Murphy, who has won the last two runnings of the Dante, deputises in what is something of a recurring theme. James Doyle of Godolphin fame partners Cormorant for Ballydoyle as Frankie Dettori pulls on the royal blue silks again to ride the John Gosden-trained Encipher.
That is another thing coronavirus has changed about this season. York's Dante meeting has been boiled down to a ten-race card, with the Musidora similarly displaced as a trial for all but the Irish and Yorkshire Oaks. In its new slot it clashes with the first day of the July festival at Newmarket, so the ITV4 cameras will be split between the two venues with Ryan Moore, Jim Crowley and Andrea Atzeni among those forced to vacate Group 2 rides at York for Group 2 rides at Newmarket.
All in all there will be eight races broadcast on mainstream television on a Thursday afternoon, with the £60,000 bet365 Handicap the only one that does not carry black type.
The July course at Newmarket, especially for the July festival, is one of those picturesque places that will be lessened for the absence of spectators. This meeting more than any other has always been the town's big summer party.
But what it lacks in racegoers it more than makes up for in Royal Ascot principals with Hardwicke runner-up Alounak, Palace of Holyroodhouse third Dancin Inthestreet and Silver Wokingham third Nahaarr in action.
The July Stakes brings together a number of juvenile formlines from the royal meeting with Windsor Castle first, second and sixth – Tactical, Yazaman and Victory Heights – stepping up a furlong to take on Coventry runner-up, seventh and 11th – Qaader, Lauded and Choritzo. The four remaining members of the field did not run at Royal Ascot but won last time out. It looks a cracker.
Throw in former Guineas hope Al Suhail, 'could-be-anything' types Lord Campari, Magical Morning and Tilsit in the Sir Henry Cecil Stakes, the 'impressive-last-time-out' Al Aasy and Dawn Rising in the Bahrain Trophy and a Princess of Wales's Tattersalls Stakes featuring plenty of those most admirable of talented horses, who cannot quite seem to land a Group 1 but are more than talented enough for a Group 2, and you have a stellar day of races that may not be trials but are sure to throw up plenty of clues.
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