The rain finally stopped in York shortly before sunset on Wednesday night, after a day that turned the going on the Knavesmire from the soft side of good to the heavy side of soft. It’s a brighter start to the day here on Thursday, but the damage had been done and Cracksman, one of only three horses at a single-figure price for the Derby, was taken out of the Dante Stakes shortly before 9am this morning.
Cracksman has won both races in his career, including the Investec Derby Trial at Epsom in April. and is the leading domestic hope for the premier Classic back at Epsom on 3 June. Owner Anthony Oppenheimer said Cracksman will not run before the Derby and could instead gallop at the Breakfast with the Stars event at Epsom on May 23.
Oppenheimer said: “I was advised by Mr Gosden that the back end of the course was very heavy and that we really couldn’t run in the interests of the horse. It’s sad, as he’d been going really well beforehand.
“He won’t run again [before the Derby] and could maybe do a gallop somewhere, possibly Epsom. He [Gosden] did mention that, so that could be an option.”
The loss of Cracksman from the field is a big disappointment for punters and racegoers, but I got the feeling from John Gosden here on Wednesday that while he was keen to run his colt in the Dante, he would not spend too much time dwelling on the unfairness of it all if he didn’t. Why risk leaving a Classic behind on the Knavesmire?
Cracksman’s form is still represented at York as Permian, who was short-headed by Cracksman at Epsom, is in the field for the Dante. There are several more unexposed three-year-olds in the field as well, and a convincing win for one of those could yet bring some focus to the Derby betting.
Sir Michael Stoute’s Crystal Ocean has pulled in the money over the last couple of days, both for today’s race and the Derby, and is now top-priced at 14-1 to win the Classic that owners covet above all others. Yet his price could well owe more to hope than expectation. He won readily enough at Nottingham in April and the runner-up has won at the same track since, but that is a long way removed from the form required to win a Group Two, never mind line up as a serious contender for the Derby. Crystal Ocean is an exciting prospect for the season ahead, but possibly not so early in his career. Rekindling is another fascinating contender for today’s race as Joseph O’Brien, his trainer, never managed to win a Dante as a jockey but did pick up two Derbys by the age of 21. He is 24 next week, and still nurtures hopes of becoming a Derby winner as both a jockey and trainer at an age when many of his peers have scarcely set one foot on the ladder.
Joseph’s father, Aidan, has Exemplar in the field but he does not seem to be riding waves of stable confidence as he arrives on the Knavesmire. Forest Ranger and Swiss Storm are also live contenders for a very competitive renewal of the Dante, but Benbatl (3.30) could be the real value in the race at around 7-1. He raced for the first time at Doncaster in early April, then finished a close third behind Eminent in the Craven Stakes less than three weeks later. With further improvement likely as a result of both experience and the extra trip, he is a decent bet to maintain Saeed bin Suroor’s good run of form.
Gosden’s So Mi Dar has also been declared a non-runner in the Middleton Stakes at York due to the ground. The four-year-old, whose only career defeat so far came in last autumn’s Prix de l’Opera, was due to make her seasonal return in the 10-furlong heat at 2.55.
Graceland (5.35) escapes a penalty for her win at Ascot last week and her route towards a double has been eased by the scratching of Parliamentarian, while East Street Revue (2.20) has gone close in both starts so far this season and could get his head in front today. Chelsea Lad (4.05) is worth backing to reaffirm his early promise after a disappointing run last time, while Queens Trust (2.55) should win what is now a four-horse renewal of the Middleton Stakes in the absence of So Mi Dar.
On the day’s other cards, Scorching Heat (2.10) and Panther Patrol (4.55) both go to post with every chance at Salisbury, while money for Opposition (6.50) this morning suggests he may be straight enough to make a successful seasonal debut at Newmarket this evening.
York 2.20 East Street Revue 2.55 Queens Trust 3.30 Benbatl 4.05 Chelsea Lad (nb) 4.35 Brian The Snail 5.05 Masar 5.35 Graceland (nap)
Newmarket 5.50 Red Roman 6.20 King Of Paris 6.50 Opposition 7.25 Jalela 8.00 Tribute Act 8.30 Fire Brigade
Salisbury 1.40 Headway 2.10 Scorching Heat 2.45 Sans Souci Bay 3.20 Ouja 3.55 Mam’selle 4.25 Crimson Rosette 4.55 Panther Patrol 5.25 Lucky Louie
Fontwell Park 5.10 Frelia 5.40 Never Complain 6.10 Sybarite 6.40 Mountain Cliche 7.15 Mon Parrain 7.50 Darwins Fox 8.20 Cooladerry King
Perth 2.00 Enzani 2.30 Rainy City 3.05 Onlyfoolsownhorses 3.40 Dutch Canyon 4.15 Weapon Of Choice 4.45 Dr Moloney 5.20 Work Du Breteau