Although the official start on the Flat turf season was at Doncaster in late March and the new jockeys’ championship began only at Newmarket last weekend, particularly in Yorkshire we feel that the season really steps up a notch when the Dante Festival at York comes around.
Once again there is some great prize money up for grabs on Knavesmire with the opening three days next week offering record rewards of over £1m.
It will be a memorable occasion on Wednesday with HRH The Duke Of York visiting to open the racecourse’s new weighing room, which will be in use for the first time.
I’m looking forward to our new home; I’ve heard there is even a telly in the sauna.
With a touch of serendipity, the Duke will also present the trophy that bears his title, as the £110,000 Duke Of York Clipper Logistics Stakes is the sprint feature of the week.
Given that G Force, probably my top horse of last year, is leaning towards a shorter race across the Pennines later in May, I’m on the look-out for a ride.
Racing has a funny way of throwing up news stories so don’t bet against Musical Comedy winning the race, meaning that the Queen’s silks would join a royal prince on the podium.
The possibility of either a French-trained winner in Gammarth or an Irish contender from Eddie Lynam’s stable shows the international appeal of York’s top races.
It is not just us racing professionals who are benefitting from the major investment by the course. Over the three days next week, race-goers will have the chance to explore the latest phase of the Northern End Development.
The aforementioned two-storey Weighing Room Building is not only home to modern sporting facilities for the jockeys but also to the Parade Ring Restaurant on the first floor which, I’m reliably informed, has fabulous views and the sort of menu that could distract those of us needing to be mindful of our weight.
The Dante Festival is something we always look forward to at David O’Meara’s yard and, with a top trainer title to defend, we’ll be hoping for a share of the spoils.
Given the Spring weather, running plans are very fluid as I write and it won’t be until the weekend before things start to fall into place. With nine ‘black type’ races, including the new Listed EBF Westow Stakes on Thursday, we’re keen to be participating, not just enjoying the atmosphere.
In the meantime, I’m accumulating motorway miles over the next 48 hours with rides on the final day of Chester’s May Meeting before a trip back to North Yorkshire for an evening at Ripon.
Tomorrow sees me down south at Ascot before finishing the day at Thirsk at the racecourse closest to my home.
I have some very nice rides today. If the ground stays easy on the Roodee, then the step up in grade in the Group 3 Ormonde Stakes would not be beyond Fattsota, a horse that some may remember being pipped at the post on Knavesmire last October. In truth, Alejandro, a very talented horse, who won twice at York last year on much better ground, would have preferred less rain ahead of the 2.10pm handicap.
Perhaps my best chance at Chester is my third and final ride of the afternoon – Intisaab in the 4.20pm handicap.
With two wins in his last two runs, he’s in fine form and, crucially, he has a good draw which is essential given the tight bends.
However, he wouldn’t be my best chance of the day. That, I reckon, is Sophisticated Heir in the 7.35pm handicap at Ripon. I fancy him after finishing runner-up at Pontefract on his seasonal debut.
Amazing Maria is a new horse in David O’Meara’s yard. She’s been working well at home and makes her seasonal debut in the fillies’ handicap at Ascot at 3.10pm on Saturday. She would have a chance if David has her spot on.
I could have chosen any of the yard’s three runners in the feature Victoria Cup 35 minutes later. I’ve opted for So Beloved after her second place at Thirsk last month. It’s an ultra-competitive contest and wide open.
Then it’s back into the car for the journey home to spend my Saturday night at Thirsk, where I will call in to ride a couple in the final two races. First Sitting makes his British debut in the 8.10pm maiden. He’s a nice horse and he, too, would have a chance.
Looking ahead to York’s season, one of my aims will be to become the leading jockey there.
Last year, I was agonisingly close after a great final day but I was edged out on countback by Ryan Moore after we tied on nine winners each. I hope to go one place better come the end of the season in October.
Over the next five months, I’ll share stories about the life of a professional jockey when I can find myself riding at York on a Saturday and 24 hours later, guiding a horse home in Dublin or Paris. Hopefully, I will be able to steer readers in the direction of some of my fancied mounts, too.
Details about going racing at York can be found at www.yorkracecourse.co.uk. Racing starts on each day of the Dante Festival, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday next week at 2.10pm. Gates open at 11.15am.