Classic aspirations on trial as Dante field assembles at York

Seven go forward for the Knavesmire Group Two.

A host of big-race ambitions go on trial in the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes at York on Thursday.

All bar two of the seven intended starters hold the Betfred Derby engagement, with the shortest in the ante-post market for Epsom being the Charlie Appleby-trained Ancient Wisdom.

A Group One winner in his juvenile year from the Futurity Trophy – a race that is working out well – he represents a Charlie Appleby yard that is already on the Classic scoreboard this season after Notable Speech landed the 2000 Guineas.

The Moulton Paddocks handler did state earlier in the week that ground conditions will dictate his participation, however, with the Dubawi colt well-proven with an ease in the ground.

Like Appleby, fellow Newmarket trainer Roger Varian has enjoyed Classic glory in the early exchanges of 2024, with Elmalka lifting the 1000 Guineas. He has an interesting candidate for Knavesmire honours in the shape of Al Musmak, who could book his ticket to Epsom or the French equivalent at Chantilly.

He was in front of Ancient Wisdom when second to 2000 Guineas runner-up Rosallion at Ascot, and rounded off his two-year-old campaign with a fine effort in finishing runner-up to Ghostwriter in the Royal Lodge, form not let down by the winner in the Guineas.

Varian said: “I’m looking forward to running him and he’s slightly under the radar but his two-year-old form is very strong.

“He finished second to Rosallion at Ascot and that form reads very well. Ancient Wisdom and Roger Teal’s horse (Dancing Gemini) were both in behind that day and that Pat Eddery Stakes reads like a really nice piece of form.

Al Musmak is held in good regard by Roger Varian
Al Musmak is held in good regard by Roger Varian (Tim Goode/PA)

“He backed that up by winning the Ascendant Stakes and he won that convincingly on the line. The second, third and fourth that day came second, third and fourth in the Derby trial at Sandown so that reads well and I would say his Royal Lodge second reads well.

“He’s a solid horse, he’s wintered well and we’ve been patient with him. This has always been his target and we think 10 furlongs at a track like York will suit him.

“I think how he runs will point us in a direction. He’s in the French Derby, he’s in at Epsom and he will have Royal Ascot options. I think he’s a nice colt, with a good profile, who should run a good race.”

Also hoping to keep Classic dreams burning bright is Karl Burke’s Caviar Heights, who built on an encouraging reappearance in the Feilden Stakes when quickly returned to the Rowley Mile for the Newmarket Stakes.

Caviar Heights impressed at Newmarket
Caviar Heights impressed at Newmarket (Adam Davy/PA)

That impressive four-length success was only 13 days ago, but the Spigot Lodge handler was loath to pass up the opportunity to enhance the son of Sea The Stars’ CV on the Knavesmire, with owner Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum giving the Dante bid his seal of approval.

“Sheikh Obaid was all for it and he goes there with a fighting chance and I think the track will suit him,” said Burke.

“I wouldn’t want it too fast for him, but good ground will be ideal for him. He was good at Newmarket and his form was given a little bit of a boost at the weekend by the horse that won the Lingfield Derby Trial (Ambiente Friendly), that finished behind him first time out in the Feilden.

“He goes there with a fighting chance and it’s a different challenge again, but hopefully he comes through it.”

Cambridge at Salisbury
Cambridge at Salisbury (Adam Morgan/PA)

Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle yard houses the Derby favourite in City Of Troy and although Cambridge is not in the premier Classic, he has been supplemented for this after finishing fourth in the Craven.

“We’ve been very happy with Cambridge since he ran in the Craven and he is another of ours who we are really expecting to improve for stepping up in trip,” said O’Brien, who surprisingly has not won the Dante since Cape Blanco obliged under Johnny Murtagh in 2010.

“We always think the Dante is the best UK trial, but it just comes a little close to the Derby this year at just two and a half weeks. Especially when you factor in the travelling ours have to do, it’s a little close. We are expecting him to run well, though.”

Owen Burrows’ War Rooms and John and Thady Gosden’s God’s Window have both featured in trials already this term and will be hoping to find improvement in Yorkshire.

Economics was a taking winner
Economics was a taking winner (PA)

Meanwhile, William Haggas sends Economics to his home county’s premier track on a fact-finding mission having shed his maiden status in good style last month.

“Whether this is the right move, only time will tell and it looks a very strong race for him,” said Haggas.

“His connections wanted to find out where we stood where him. I think he’s a nice horse and he is probably our nicest three-year-old – or certainly one of them. I don’t think we’ve got anywhere near the bottom of him yet, so we will have a look and see where he fits in.

“He might not be good enough, but he’s a pretty nice horse and he will like the track and he will like the trip as well, so hopefully he will run a nice race.”

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