The first £1million Ebor Handicap at York has attracted such a competitive field that, while having nailed down a selection, it is close to impossible for us to shortlist less than 8 horses with these runners all holding major chances of landed the £600,000 first prize.
Mark Johnston is a past master with these big staying handicaps and has three runners in this, his Baghdad arguably being the best of them. He has produced his best form in Ascot handicaps, in June beating Ben Vrackie, but his run in Group 3 company at Goodwood last time should not be underestimated and has a great profile for this.
Roger Varian’s 7-year-old but has been as good as ever this season in Listed company with this competitive field expected to get more out of him. He is blinkered for the first time and is available at around 25/1 which is too big for a horse generally in good form and who has won over 1m4f at York in the past.
Wide draws aren’t a problem and the magisterial John Gosden trained a 1-2 in this race last year. Ben Vrackie was well-backed for the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes at Ascot where he was short-headed by Baghdad and it is worth noting that he was closing with every stride there.
He can go on from that now to a new level under Frankie Dettori over a flat mile and three-quarters making him just about the best prospect in this race at the weights.
The shortest of Mark Johnston’s in the betting owing to him having won 8 of his nine outings for the Middleham trainer, but despite a win at Goodwood this is the most competitive race he’s been in and he has been put up another 5lbs by the handicapper which, in this environment, could be just enough to stop him.
This son of Frankel has a great profile; a 4-year-old trained by Sir Michael Stoute with few miles on the clock. Mekong is bound to improve over time but from a very low draw from which he could hit traffic he’ll need to rely on a little bit of luck and if anything may find this trip just a tad too short.
One of only two horses to have ever beaten Enable, William Haggas’ son of Sea The Stars looks a proper stayer and is only just hitting his true stride now. With that in mind a career best could be on the cards here before he heads abroad and two of his best runs have been over this course and distance since June.
Wells Farhh Go
Yorkshire trained; Tim Easterby’s colt was a very good winner of the Acomb as a juvenile at this meeting and he was thought of as a St Leger type last season. He came back this season with an impressive Listed race win at Newmarket and we have not seen the best of him yet, so if he’s fully ready to do himself justice then he has a great each-way chance.
He doesn’t always get out much this 6-year-old. Roger Charlton’s runner has been gelded, had setbacks and also a wind operation but in between all that he’s won a Cesarewitch, a Northumberland Plate and a Marsh Cup so keeps finding more it seems. He is top-weight here though and that’s a tough task in these race conditions which could be a little quick for him.
This promises to be a wonderful heritage handicap, making it truly worthy of the title of ‘feature race’ of the meeting despite the presence during the week of Crystal Ocean, Enable, Stradivarius and the like.
It’s naturally a very tough one to call and there could be some career bests from a number of them. Raheen House holds that possibility, as does Wells Farhh Go while Barsanti is over-priced considering we can see more from him in a handicap environment.
Mark Johnston’s Baghdad is tough and can himself pull more out of the bag, but the one that appeals most of all is John Gosden’s BEN VRACKIE. Another son of Frankel, he has been improving with almost every race since making his debut last summer and can reach new heights here over this trip having been unlucky over a mile-and-a-half at Royal Ascot, potentially giving Frankie Dettori a great end to a fantastic week.