It's one of Kevin Blake's favourite meetings of the year, and our resident tipster had two tips for the opening day of York's Ebor Festival...
"In general, the pace has been holding up well on the sprint track at York of late, so the hope is that the old boy will prove tough to peg back at what is a very big price."
The Ebor meeting at York kicks off on Wednesday and it's fair to say I'm excited about it. It is one of my very favourite race meetings anywhere in the world and while I won't be attending this year, I can't wait to see it unfold over the next few days.
The racing will be fiercely competitive as always and I'll do my best to pull a few winners out of it.
Veteran sprinter can go well at a big price
The meeting kicks off with the Sky Bet and Symphony Group Handicap (13:50), a big-field sprint handicap that would have many a punter running for cover, but not this eejit!
While there are a couple of intriguing three-year-olds in the line-up, I'm veering towards the opposite end of the age spectrum in the shape of the wonderful veteran El Astronaute.
The eight-year-old isn't quite the 111-rated force he once was, but he showed that he can still be very competitive off a mark in the low-100s when a good second to Lord Riddiford at Goodwood on his penultimate start. That run deserves to be marked up, as he fared the best of the pace pushers and was picked off by one that was ridden much more quietly.
His most recent run in a small-field conditions race at Hamilton just four days after his Goodwood run can be readily excused, as he raced on what may well have been an unfavoured part of the track and the run may just have come too soon for him.
One of the keys to his chance in this contest is that he has shown a liking for York in the past, winning twice (including this race off a mark of 101 in 2018) and hitting the frame four times from 12 starts in highly-competitive company on the Knavesmire.
If you isolate his runs at York to just those in handicaps, it ready two wins and three places from seven starts. In general, the pace has been holding up well on the sprint track at York of late, so the hope is that the old boy will prove tough to peg back at what is a very big price.
Hoping we've found a winner with Lucan
The Sky Bet Great Voltigeur Stakes (15:00) may not be one of the title races of the week, but it is always a fascinating race that informs the big-race scene in the months ahead.
Widely considered to be St Leger trial, it may not play as big a role in this year's renewal of that race given the favourite Kemari is a gelding and other short-priced runners such as High Definition and Third Realm aren't entered for it, but it still promises to be a high-class contest.
Both Kemari and High Definition are coming into this off the back of short breaks and this race is likely to be seen as a stepping stone to bigger targets. In contrast, one that is sure to be in top shape is the only one of the main contenders for this race that is entered in the St Leger, the Aidan O'Brien-trained Sir Lucan, and he is the one I fancy for the Great Voltigeur.
The son of Camelot has quietly progressed up the ranks, beating Wordsworth in a Listed race over 13 furlongs at Navan back in May. He presumably had a setback after that, as he was absent for 11 weeks before returning to action in the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood last month.
Frankie Dettori rode him on that occasion and he rode him like a horse that was expected to need the run. Dettori rode him with exaggerated patience and when he finally asked for full effort, Sir Lucan finished off very well to be beaten just ½-length by Ottoman Emperor.
That was a run full of promise and one that suggests he will be capable of better still with that effort under his belt. It is slightly surprising that first-time cheekpieces are now applied, but there is no better man than Frankie to relax horses and now that he has the benefit of knowing him, the pair will hopefully combine to make a bold bid for glory.
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