Horse Racing Tips

Mark Milligan's Big Race Verdict: Ancient Wisdom to lay down Derby claims

Mark Milligan has taken a in-depth look at Thursday's Dante Stakes at York and expects Godolphin to scoop the prize...

  • Mark casts his eye over Thursday's Dante at York

  • Derby picture should become clearer

  • Godolphin runner to stake his Epsom claims

Thursday's Group 2 Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes at York is the final stepping-stone on the way to what is currently quite a murky Derby picture, though things could well become a lot clearer after this contest, which has stood the test of time in terms of finding winners of the big Epsom showpiece.

My own experience of the race stretches back to the mid-80s, when I was lucky enough to see a subsequent Derby winner on one my first visits to York as a fresh-faced teenager, with Henry Cecil's Reference Point taking the race on the way to Epsom glory under the mercurial Steve Cauthen.

The Dante itself has a storied roll of honour, with the likes of subsequent Epsom winners North Light, Motivator, Workforce, Golden Horn and Desert Crown having contested the race this century alone, to name just a few.

Ancient Wisdom sets the bar high

So what of this year's contenders?

The obvious starting point is Godolphin's Ancient Wisdom, who sets a high standard on his juvenile form and represents Charlie Appleby, who already has a strong Epsom contender in the shape of Sandown Classic Trial winner Arabian Crown.

This €2m son of Dubawi was beaten only once in five starts during his juvenile season, failing to meet expectations when only third in listed company at Ascot in July.

Given a break after that, Ancient Wisdom bounced back to form when taking the Group 3 Autumn Stakes at Newmarket in October, before stepping up to the top level in the Group 1 Futurity at Doncaster on his final start, coming home nearly two lengths clear of Devil's Point.

Everything about Ancient Wisdom suggests he'll be suited by 1m 2f+ and he looks sure to take all the beating.

Next two in the betting both potential improvers

Roger Varian's Al Musmak actually finished ahead of Ancient Wisdom in that aforementioned listed Ascot contest, when the pair were second and third respectively behind subsequent 2000 Guineas runner-up Rosallion.

Al Musmak himself went on to win a similar contest next time, rounding off his two-year-old season with a good runner-up finish to Ancient Wisdom's stablemate Ghostwriter in the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket.

Varian's runners rarely lack for fitness, so it's no issue that he's not been seen since then and he should stay this 1m 2f trip.

Caviar Heights clearly didn't give his running when finishing stone last in that Royal Lodge, and he has put that well behind him in a pair of starts this season, the latest when impressively taking a listed contest at Newmarket.

There could be even more to come from Karl Burke's son of Sea The Stars.

Haggas and O'Brien runners may have to settle for minor roles

Of the others, both Cambridge and Economics are worthy of mentions.

Aidan O'Brien's Cambridge does seem to be a little way down the Ballydoyle pecking order, but he should be suited by stepping back up in trip here having started his season with a third in the Craven Stakes at Newmarket.

Plenty of the O'Brien runners this season have been coming on for their seasonal debuts too, so he obviously merits respect, though whether he's quite good enough for this remains to be seen.

Economics is a fascinating runner for the William Haggas team, having made just two starts, the second of them coming when getting off the mark in a Newbury maiden that's working out well.

He obviously needs to progress again to play a major hand here, but the Haggas team are hardly known for tilting at windmills and this son of Night Of Thunder is obviously well regarded.

Mark's Dante Verdict

Ancient Wisdom's Group 1 Doncaster win last season sets a high standard for these to aim at and there's every chance he can improve again for this step up in trip.

I wouldn't be inclined to take his form behind Al Musmak at face value, for all that one is a major contender too, and I expect Charlie Appleby's runner to push himself firmly to the fore in the Derby picture with victory here.

It was hard not to be impressed by Caviar Heights' win at Newmarket last time and he's another who can play a hand in the finish, though a minor placing may be the best he can muster.

Economics is open to plenty of progression too, but he'll need all that and more if he's to land a blow on the Godolphin runner, who should prove hard to peg back.

Now Read Ryan Moore on his Dante day rides here.

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