Halling can land 'double double'

Sue Montgomery looks for winning clues for this week's York Ebor meeting
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The Independent Online
Whether or not York is, as it is styled, the Ascot of the North, or Ascot is merely the York of the South depends whether or not you were born in God's own county. After this week's Ebor meeting the racing calendar begins the run down towards the autumn, but from Tuesday to Thursday 70,000 will flock in their finery to the Knavesmire to drink the last of the summer wine.

There has been racing at York on and off since Roman times, and on the famous expanse of common land, just 20 minutes walk from the city centre, since 1731. Time was when the sports would be prefaced by a hanging - Dick Turpin met his end there in 1739 - but nowadays the entertainment, and high-class stuff it is, is confined to the track.

This week there is nearly pounds 1m in prize money on offer in a superb (a new pounds 10m grandstand and the course's second successive City In Bloom award), well-run (recently voted the area's Best Larger Business) setting in front of one of the most knowledgeable (and partisan; listen to the reception of a horse trained at Middleham, Malton, Richmond or Thirsk wins) audiences in Britain; if York is Ascot, it's Ascot without the posers.

The course, a wide, flat left-handed horseshoe with sweeping turns and a daunting half-mile home straight. It provides a demanding, but fair, test, and the racing promises to live up the occasion, with a Group One race a day, backed up by three Group Twos and the most competitive staying handicap of the season.

The first of the three championship contests is the pounds 200,000 Juddmonte International on Tuesday. Halling, who won last year after taking the Eclipse Stakes, has already completed the first leg of the "double double" and looks the one to beat, though he will face formidable opposition from Sussex Stakes winner First Island, stepping back up to 10 furlongs, and two three-year-olds, his Sandown victim Bijou D'Inde and the French raider Grape Tree Road. Add Spectrum and the 2,000 Guineas runner-up Even Top, who are both on retrieving missions, and you have a serious race.

No decision about the Oaks winner Lady Carla's participation in the Yorkshire version on Wednesday has yet been made, but the filly will have a point to prove after her flop in the Irish Oaks. She will have to be at her best to cope with the Epsom and Curragh runners-up, Pricket and Shamadara - who may give the Aga Khan that elusive first British comeback winner - and the Prix de Diane winner Sil Sila.

On Thursday it is the sprinters' turn in the Nunthorpe Stakes, for which nine were left in at yesterday's five-day stage. Mind Games, back to his favourite five furlongs, can break Jack Berry's Group One duck. In the Ebor Handicap on Wednesday, the Newmarket visitor My Learned Friend can give each-way supporters a run at a sporting price.

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