Racing: Freeloader will relish return to the Knavesmire

It would be easy to dismiss today's main card at York as a counterbalance to last weekend at Longchamp, a rather dull ying to the sumptuous yang in the Bois de Boulogne. But then the Knavesmire possesses a compelling element that not even Paris was able to serve up six days ago.

The jockeys' championship, which by now is usually at composition-of-acceptance-speech stage, is still alive and kicking wildly. A good promoter could even sell it as a three-way contest, yet essentially Seb Sanders already has the bronze around his neck as Frankie Dettori and Kieren Fallon continue their arm wrestle today at York.

The Italian is slightly over the perpendicular at the moment and, despite a winner on the Knavesmire yesterday, the champion has a considerable task to get closer on what is a particularly competitive, if not hugely classy, day. The pair also slap each other with their gloves at Wolverhampton this evening.

The quality race on the Knavesmire is the Listed Rockingham Stakes, in which Fallon partners the rerouted Yajbill, who was initially a contender for Salisbury's abandoned Cornwallis Stakes. Dettori is on the unbeaten Woodcote, but the riding titans will find it difficult here in the face of two horses saddled by Mark Johnston.

The Middleham trainer sends another unbeaten beast in Joseph Henry to the track after an absence of five months. It is a hard assignment, but no more than he has been asked to do at exercise. "He's been working pretty well," Johnston said yesterday. "His last bit of work was with Shamardal, which was a tall order, but he went well enough to justify starting at this level."

This, though, looks destined for Kingsley House's Nufoos (2.05), who was runner-up in a Group Three contest at Ayr last time and knows what it is like to be buffeted by good company.

After that the remaining televised races have attracted maximum fields. That will mean trouble for those drawn high in the first of the handicaps. Freeloader (nap 2.35) is not one of the cursed ones and looks persuasive as he has shown he can operate successfully around these contours.

Master Robbie (next best 3.05) is no stranger to victory here and is well treated on his best form. He looked to be approaching that station when fourth from 2lb out of the handicap at Newmarket. He will not be short of a gallop either. This is his third race in 10 days.

The Coral Sprint Trophy is difficult. Talbot Avenue has a chance after the cruelty of putting him in with The Tatling and Var at Newbury, while Pic Up Sticks got back in the groove at Ripon last time. Favour falls though on Mutawaqed (3.40), who has threatened to win a valuable prize for some time.

The British try to get their own back in the Prix de la Forêt at Longchamp today, when Nayyir leads five travellers into battle for the Group One contest. Gerard Butler's runner has never won at this level, while Hughie Morrison's Pastoral Pursuits, Doncaster's Park Stakes winner, has never even run at it. Somnus and Monsieur Bond are also in the mix against the paltry, numerically at least, defence of Denebola and Charming Groom.

A harbinger of times waiting comes at Limerick tomorrow, when the first serious jumps horse of the season appears in the Munster National. The fast, flashy horses will soon be away and in their places will be the winter warriors such as the animal embarking on another Cheltenham Gold Cup campaign, Beef Or Salmon.

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