There has been racing at York on and off since Roman times and on the Knavesmire, the expanse of common land just 20 minutes walk from the city centre, since 1731. Although nowadays the entertainment is confined to the track, time was when an afternoon's jollification would be prefaced by a hanging. Most notably, Dick Turpin met his defiant end at the York Tyburn in 1739.
Those required to stand and deliver this week must do so in less harrowing circumstances, but riches are at stake nonetheless as contenders for the Derby and Oaks put their reputations and aspirations on the line in the races commemorating two Yorkshire-trained Classic winners.
Tomorrow's Dante Stakes is named after the Derby hero sent south from Middleham in 1945 by Matt Peacock. The colt has been one of only two to bring a Blue Riband back to God's own county - the other was Pretender in 1869. Although Dante's triumph was in the last of the wartime runnings at Newmarket his race at York is one of the more successful pointers to events in Surrey next month.
Its 49 runnings have produced eight Derby winners - including the last two - eight runners-up and seven thirds. And although Dante winners meet varying fates in the real thing - witness the efforts of the last 10: Motivator first; North Light first; Magistretti ninth; Moon Ballad third; Dilshaan seventh; Sakhee second; Salford Express 14th; Saratoga Springs 10th; Benny The Dip 1st and Glory Of Dancer fourth - no horse has failed at York and gone on to win a Derby.
Apart from those named, St Paddy (1960), Shirley Heights (1978), Shahrastani (1986), Reference Point (1987) and Erhaab all did the double. André Fabre, whose short-priced favourite Visindar is backed up by the not-to-be-underestimated Linda's Lad, and Aidan O'Brien, who has Horatio Nelson, Dylan Thomas and tomorrow's likely runner Septimus at the forefront of the betting, dominate the Derby market.
Even the Ballydoyle stable jockey acknowledges the potency of Visindar - "The way he won the other day was expected of him, but he's not favourite for nothing and he's the one we all have to beat", Kieren Fallon said yesterday - and the French and Irish will tighten their stranglehold unless the last recognised eliminator produces a credible alternative. One with credentials is the Godolphin team's prime Epsom candidate Palace Episode, who makes his three-year-old debut tomorrow. "Whether it is him or not, whether he will be good enough, we'll know on Thursday," said the blues' racing manager Simon Crisford yesterday.
Palace Episode, headhunted after following in Motivator's footsteps in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster, is currently available at 40-1 for the Derby.
Today's trial, the 46th Musidora Stakes, marks the reappearance of the Oaks favourite Alexandrova (2.45). Unlike the colts, the Ballydoyle fillies have not shone in either coat or performance so far this season, but Alexandrova has apparently been gleaming bright on the gallops in the warmer weather and her stablemate Queen Cleopatra's victory on Sunday was encouraging. Although the Fillies' Mile runner-up by inches will not be a betting proposition for ordinary mortals she is impossible to oppose.
The first visit to sport on the Knavesmire by a Duke of York came in 1789, by the first of that ilk, the son of George III remembered as the 'Grand Old' in nursery rhyme. The Duke of York Stakes, the spring meeting's feature sprint, was created in 1968 and is now established as one of the first steps on the way to discovering the identity of the year's champion flyer.
It would be entirely just if Balthazaar's Gift (3.15) could emerge as a contender for top honours, given that he is trained by Kevin Ryan, who lost Palace Episode to Godolphin. As the only three-year-old in the a battle-hardened field the son of Xaar is rather in at the deep end but he did nothing but improve last year.
Nap: Long Night
NB: Self Respect
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