Connection leads way as Hills sets sights on Dante at York

Dutch Connection
Dutch Connection
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TATTERSALLS Acomb Stakes star Dutch Connection is one of a trio of talented Charlie Hills-trained horses who could contest the Group 2 Betfred Dante Stakes at York on Thursday, May 14.

Dutch Connection, along with fellow Group-race winner Commemorative and Purple Rock – all from Hills’s powerful Lambourn stable – are part of a 69-strong entry for the £160,000 feature race of York’s curtain-raising Dante Festival.

Dutch Connection made a name for himself when springing a 16/1 surprise at York last summer in the seven-furlong Group 3 Tattersalls Acomb under William Buick at the Ebor meeting. He subsequently showed high-class form in finishing third to Gleneagles in the Group 1 National Stakes at the Curragh.

Stable-mate Commemorative stamped himself as a top prospect when storming to success in the Autumn Stakes at Newmarket. He then ran a creditable race in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, beaten only two and three-quarter lengths by Hootenanny.

Purple Rock shaped a like a good horse in the making as he took a back-end maiden at Redcar in convincing style by no less than five lengths.

Hills said: “I’ve been really pleased with Dutch Connection – his work has been really good. He is the horse that I want to go straight to the 2000 Guineas with. He relaxes well and should stay a mile and a quarter. The Dante is an option and we’ll see how we get on.”

“Commemorative is a horse who also I think should stay a mile and a quarter, if not further. I’m probably going to start him off in the Feilden or maybe the Craven. He is going to do a bit of work next week at Lingfield, so that is really going tell us where we go…the Feilden or the Craven.”

“The Dante is hopefully a nice possibility for him in May. I’m pleased with him. There is plenty of stamina on his dam’s side and he is a horse that relaxes very well.”

“Purple Rock is a lightly-raced horse, rated 85. I might start him off in the Esher Cup (Sandown Park, April 24). He should stay a mile and a quarter and is a horse that we like.”

Yorkshire has been successful in the last two renewals of the Betfred Dante Stakes thanks to Libertarian (2013) and The Grey Gatsby (2014) and the trainers of both these colts have an eye on further glory. The Spigot Lodge stable of Karl Burke, which enjoyed a famous 33/1 Dante triumph with Libertarian could bring Lord Ben Stack, who won a maiden nicely at Haydock before finishing fifth to Elm Park in the Group 2 Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket.

Burke said: “Lord Ben Stack has definitely trained on and is a lovely big horse. He goes to Newbury for a conditions race on April 17. If he went and won or ran very well and was second to a good horse, then he would nearly certainly take his chance in the Dante.”

“He has got it all to prove but he won his maiden at two and probably wasn’t entitled to do that – he didn’t look a two year old, he was a huge horse last year. He has filled his frame, strengthened and is doing everything right at the moment at home.”

Reflecting on that golden day with Libertarian, Burke added: “We knew we had a good horse – or thought we had. But he had to go there and prove it and it was great to be vindicated with the way he won.”

Kevin Ryan may look to Flaming Spear, a York maiden winner on his sole outing to date, to follow up the triumph of The Grey Gatsby in last year’s renewal.

As expected for such a renowned Derby ‘trial’, the 2015 Betfred Dante Stakes entry has a strong look. The top-10 in the Investec Derby betting are in all there, with the sponsors making the Irish trained John F Kennedy their 9/2 favourite for Epsom. There are a further nineteen entrants from the Emerald Isle and an intriguing entry from the all-conquering French stable of Andre Fabre, who could send the unbeaten, Grey Lion.

CLEVER Cookie is one of 27 horses given an entry for the richest ever renewal of the Betway Yorkshire Cup, which will offer £150,000 in prize money when staged at York on Friday May 15 – the third day of the Dante Festival.

Trained at Barton-Le-Street near Malton by Peter Niven, the seven-year-old made a successful transition from classy hurdler to a smart staying type on the Flat last season.

He won successive races at York last spring – including in Listed company over the same mile and three quarters around the Knavesmire. His rapid progress through the ranks then saw him compete in a Group 2 last September at Doncaster where he was fourth to Estimate, beaten only two lengths.

Since then Clever Cookie has enjoyed a well-earned break but now Niven is planning fresh glories for his charge – and the Group Two, Betway Yorkshire Cup, is firmly on the agenda.

Niven said: “He likes York and I like it as well! He has wintered well – it has been the first break he has had for 16 to 18 months. He is all the better for it.”

“We will try and get a prep run for him before York, although we are a bit short of options. There will be a race, even if we have to drop to a mile and a half.”

“But he is quite a clean-winded horse and it wouldn’t matter either way. It is only for our own peace of mind that I’d like to get a run into him.”

“He is in great nick. We should see an improved horse. But he has shown he has got a fair level of ability and doesn’t need to find a lot to be competitive in some big races, hopefully.”

There are a host of intriguing entries alongside Clever Cookie – not least Gospel Choir. The Sir Michael Stoute-trained gelding has not been seen since winning this race last year when he led home Tac De Boistron, the two-time winner of the Prix Royal-Oak, who is another entered again for the final day showpiece at York.

Stoute said: “Gospel Choir sustained an injury last June. Although he has the Yorkshire Cup entry, at this stage I cannot be certain when I will have him ready to run.”

Another possible runner is Brown Panther, so impressive last Saturday when landing the Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup by three and a quarter lengths. Fellow globetrotter Red Cadeaux won this race three years ago for trainer Ed Dunlop and could be back for another tilt – as might stable-mate Times Up, the 2012 Weatherbys Insurance Lonsdale Cup hero.

Whilst, Ahzeemah, the 2013 winner of the feature stayers contest at the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival, is one of four Godolphin entries.