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 end at the York Tyburn in 1739.
Those required to stand and deliver this week must do so in less harrowing circumstances than afforded to the highwayman's victims, but riches are at stake none the less as contenders for the Derby and Oaks put their aspirations on the line in the races commemorating two Yorkshire-trained Classic winners. Ten colts have been declared for tomorrow's 47th Dante Stakes, the 10-and-a-half furlong contest named after the 1945 Blue Riband hero, the last to return triumphant to God's own county. The Group Two race is one of the more successful pointers to events in Surrey next month, having produced six winners there, seven runners-up and six thirds.
Interestingly, although Dante winners meet varying fates in the real thing (witness the efforts of the last six: Magistretti, ninth; Moon Ballad third; Dilshaan seventh; Sakhee second; Salford Express 14th; and Saratoga Springs 10th) no horse has failed at York and gone on to win a Derby.
St Paddy, Shirley Heights, Shahrastani, Reference Point, Erhaab and Benny The Dip all did the double. None of the seven Derby entries running tomorrow is in the forefront of the betting; Andean and Let The Lion Roar, at around 25-1, are the highest on the lists.
Today's trial, though, the Musidora Stakes, features the three-year-old debut of the third favourite for the Oaks, Punctilious (2.30), who attracted further Epsom support yesterday. The daughter of Danehill was one of Sheikh Mohammed's head-hunts for Godolphin last year after she won for the second time and there was not much wrong either with her final outing at two, a third place to Red Bloom in the Fillies' Mile. Just in front of her that day, and in a private trial in Dubai last month, was her now-stablemate Sundrop, runner-up in the Guineas earlier this month and current Oaks favourite.
The Godolphin team has always maintained there is little between them and Punctilious, a half-sister to recent Sagaro Stakes winner Risk Seeker, will appreciate every yard of today's demanding but fair Group Three test round the wide, flat left-handed horseshoe with its sweeping turns and a daunting half-mile home straight. She has the right man in the saddle, too, should today's six-runner contest turn out to be tactical and, although she will not be a betting proposition for ordinary mortals, she is impossible to oppose, even though she is untested on easy ground. The one for the forecast should be the Sheikh's maroon-and-white colourbearer Glen Innes, sturdily-bred with Imagine and Generous as close relations.
Musidora won both the filly Classics in 1949 and in 43 runnings of 'her' race Noblesse, Bireme, Diminuendo, Snow Bride and Reams Of Verse won both it and the Oaks; Ambergris, Where You Lead, Moonlight Night, Last Feather, All At Sea, Hawajiss, Pure Grain, Bahr, Zahrat Dubai and Kalypso Katie won the first and finished in the frame in the second.
Of today's 15 runners in the meeting's feature sprint, the Duke of York Stakes, all bar two hold future Group 1 entries and this six-furlong contest, upgraded to Group 2 last year, is indeed often the first meaningful step on the way to discovering the identity of the year's champion flyer.
Sir Michael Stoute has not handled one such since Ajdal, but the way Arakan (3.00) responded to the experiment of dropping him back in distance at Newmarket last month means that omission may be about to be remedied. The son of Nureyev beat subsequent winner Frizzante extremely cosily and, despite third-placed Ashdown Express's 6lb pull this time, can continue his progress up the ranks.