These are not days for racegoers with ecclesiophobia. Meetings at Salisbury yesterday, Ripon tomorrow, York next week add up to a tour of the great cathedral cities of England. York Minster, of course, is the oldest and grandest, but its venerability only just shades that of its neighbour to the north-west. St Wilfrid founded Ripon in 672AD and is commemorated in the valuable sprint handicap run within sight of the magnificent 12th-century edifice that still contains the original stone crypt.
St Wilfrid, who was also archbishop at York during his career, was by all accounts quite a lad by cloth standards, wealthy and educated and not at all averse to the pleasures of life. It would be good to think that he would be flattered by having a race named after him.
With a purse of £60,000, the Great St Wilfrid Stakes is the richest contest run at the pretty course at the edge of the Yorkshire Dales and as such is always keenly contested, particularly by local trainers. A maximum 20-strong field was declared yesterday, more than half of them resident in God's own county.
The top-weight for the six-furlong dash, Fullandby, will be having his third crack at the prize, an occasion which Tim Etherington hopes will be lucky, particularly as the six-year-old appears to have fortune on his side with the draw. Traditionally, high-drawn horses fare best and Fullandby, runner-up two years ago from stall seven and 10th last year from four, need yield the far rail to no-one tomorrow, from box 20.
Fullandby, who won the Portland Handicap last year and signalled a return to form with a runner-up spot at Ayr last month, is as highly rated as he has ever been, but competent apprentice Lee Vickers will take 3lb of the scheduled 9st 10lb off his sturdy back. "It's nice to get a good draw this time," said the Norton-based handler, "and Lee is a sensible, strong lad. It will be a tough race but we're happy with the horse and just need it to go right on the day."
The last time the trophy, a silver statue of St Wilfrid, stayed in Yorkshire was when Dandy Nicholls sent out Ice Planet to win. Tomorrow he fields four, with last weekend's Haydock winner Valery Borzov (drawn 16) perceived as the first string. The ante-post favourite has been one of the nesh southerners, Stuart Williams-trained Hogmaneigh, another with a favourable stall, number 15.
The next bookies' benefit on the list is Wednesday's Ebor Handicap (the Ripon contest is funded by William Hill and that at York by the Tote), for which no fewer than 62 horses were declared yesterday with only 20 places available. Five share favouritism at 8-1 with the sponsors, Bauer, Mad Rush, Milne Graden, Young Mick and Wicked Daze.
The weekend's richest domestic card is tomorrow at Newbury, where the Geoffrey Freer Stakes sees a clash between the high-class stayers Sixties Icon, winner of the St Leger two years ago, and Geordieland, runner-up in the Gold Cup in June, and the Hungerford Stakes marks a step up the ladder for the progressive three-year-old Paco Boy.
But the top quality comes at Deauville on Sunday, where 1,000 Guineas heroine Natagora is set to turn out against the colts in the Prix Jacques le Marois, 12 days after her slightly disappointing third in a fillies' Group One at the Normandy track. "I am really tempted to run her as she is so well," said trainer Pascal Pary yesterday.
Natagora's eight opponents will include Paco Boy's Richard Hannon stablemate Major Cadeaux and, possibly, Peter Chapple-Hyam's Winker Watson. There was a successful raid from Britain yesterday at Deauville when Dar Re Mi, ridden by Olivier Peslier for John Gosden, easily took the Prix Minerve.
* Today's meeting at Newcastle was abandoned yesterday due to a waterlogged track.
Kempton Park tonight: Hyperion's selections 5.55 Woodcote; 6.25 King Olav; 6.55 Key Signature; 7.25 Mille Feuille; 7.55 Came Back; 8.25 Killena Boy; 8.55 Smokey Rye.