Racing / York Ebor Meeting: Knavesmire scene set for a Classic revival: International Stakes raises the curtain on three days promising class, stamina, speed and haste

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YORK'S Ebor meeting needs to provide an impressive platform this year because it falls at a time when the fire of fervour for the Classic generation lies buried under many layers of fireman's foam.

The Knavesmire's best- known fixture comes with the careers of both the middle- distance Classic winners almost certainly extinguished. Erhaab, the Derby victor, has certainly gone, swapping the compartments of the starting stalls for the altogether more spacious and pleasurable arena of the breeding shed. Balanchine, who promised much with her Oaks and Irish Derby victories, remains more likely to be in front of Erhaab's boggling eyes than those of the racing public following two spasms of colic.

If the further factor of East Of The Moon, possibly Europe's best three-year-old and a filly who may never run in Britain is thrown in, it could be argued that York this week will be a sombre place. Nothing, though, would be further from the truth.

Admittedly, there are signs of the times. Lester Piggott, at 58, will be going to Folkestone today, while Lord Howard de Walden, at 81, feels like going to bed more often, and is to cut back his racing interests. Lord Howard, who is represented in the International Stakes today by Grand Lodge, has decided to sell one of his studs, the Thornton Stud in Yorkshire.

Yet the menu for the meeting on the Knavesmire this week is not so much mouthwatering as edible. On Thursday there is Lochsong, who fills as many stadiums as the Rolling Stones, and a compelling Lowther Stakes; tomorrow the Gimcrack Stakes with Fallow and Mind Games, the Ebor and the Yorkshire Oaks, contested by the St Leger favourite, Bolas, jostle for attention; and today there are more St Leger aspirants in the Great Voltigeur Stakes as well as the most prestigious race of the meeting, the International Stakes.

The International Stakes is not known as such by people in racing. They call it by the sponsor's name, the Juddmonte. To great corporate glee, the event also used to be known as the Benson & Hedges (the former backers), and there will be those who hope the trend extends to other Group One races.

This afternoon's International Stakes may also become known, however, as the race which provided vindication for the three-year-olds. For among the aspirants is King's Theatre, the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner who has also chased home both Erhaab and Balanchine.

King's Theatre's problem here is that he is the favourite, which has proved as useful in this contest as the time when Goliath was a shade of odds on. Brigadier Gerard lost on the Knavesmire when the only problem seemed to be the fresh eulogy Dick Hern would have to compose in the winners' enclosure and, since that first running in 1972, there have been open- mouthed reactions to the defeats of Rheingold, Grundy, Oh So Sharp and Cacoethes.

Three of the last five winners have been sent off at 16-1 or over, so the most effective tip for racegoers this afternoon may be just to stand in a queue for the boards and then forward a name nobody else has mentioned when you get to the front of the crocodile.

This is not to say that the International is the most unfathomable, or popular, of the week's attractions. That honour belongs to the meeting's eponymous event, the Ebor.

Now over 150 years old, tomorrow's race features an unusually lengthy alliance in the sport: the one between George Duffield and Sir Mark Prescott, the jockey and trainer behind the favourite, Hasten To Add.

It comes as no surprise to discover that there is enough mutual backslapping in this relationship to ensure Newmarket's resident osteopath has plenty of business. 'He's second to none at placing horses,' Duffield said of his employer yesterday. 'And I mean worldwide.

'That's why people who have horses with him stay around, because they get value for money. He's top bracket and I just wish people would send him better horses.'

Sir Mark is a conservative with boths C's (his father and grandfather were both North- country MPs and not from the John Prescott lineage) and he likes continuation.

'George has never told me a lie in 26 years,' he says. 'If he told me black was white I'd believe him.

'The worst job in the world is going to be my next stable jockey as it's going to be following a blissfully happy marriage of 20-odd years.

'He's got fierce determination and the ability to impart a sense of urgency into very ordinary horses. His enthusiasm stands out, and he'll got to Carlisle for one in the claimer thinking he's got a chance. That enthusiasm imparts itself to the yard, the owner and the horse. He's the best stable jockey in the country.'

Prescott's greatest fear is not that Hasten To Add loses tomorrow but that when the trainer's obituary comes it will have the word bachelor at the bottom and an accompanying inference he is keen to deny. York this week comes at a difficult time, but when its history is written it is almost certain to be studded with glorious moments.

(Photograph and table omitted)