Dante Festival: Drying ground is the only concern for Niven ahead of Yorkshire Cup bid

PETER Niven is hoping Clever Cookie's love of York will stand him in good stead when he bids to register a first Group Two success in the Betway Yorkshire Cup '“ the Dante festival's final-day highlight.

Clever Cookie will challenge for the Yorkshire Cup at York today.

The winner of three of his six starts on the Knavesmire, Clever Cookie was beaten on his seasonal reappearance at Nottingham, to the dismay of connections, before finishing an excellent second to Mizzou in the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot.

The one worry is the drying ground on the Knavesmire.

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“He’s good – he seems to be progressing along nicely. But I was praying for these showers to happen,” said Malton-based Niven whose mother bred this horse which has been a revelation on the Flat following a successful career over hurdles.

“He is in good nick. The run at Ascot was brilliant – I thought he ran a great race. He loves it round York and if he gets a strong gallop over a mile and a six, he has every chance.”

He went on: “Ascot was great after Nottingham wasn’t so good.

“At Ascot, he was back to a professional performance. He’s getting fitter, he’s a year older and has taken a while longer to get fit. He looks terrific and just hope if the weather doesn’t get too dry.”

Mizzou does not reoppose but his trainer Luca Cumani is represented by Second Step, who has not run since finishing unplaced in the Canadian International at Woodbine in October..

Second Step lifted the Group Two Jockey Club Sakes at Newmarket last May but missed this year’s renewal to wait for this test.

“It’s a tough race with the second and third from the Sagaro, but he seems well and is training well and we are hopeful of a good run,” said Cumani who has previously won the Yorkshire Cup with Arzanni and Eastern Mystic.

John Gosden, successful with Duncan in 2011, relies on Flying Officer, who was third behind Mizzou and Clever Cookie in the aforementioned Sagaro Stakes.

Fourth that day was Suegioo for Malton trainer Richard Fahey. However this consistent seven-year-old has not got his head in front since winning the Chester Cup two years ago.

“He’s been running well, we’re happy with him, but he’s got to step up.” said Fahey.

QuestFor More, winner of last year’s Northumberland Plate under jockey George Baker, could begin his 2016 campaign at York later this month.

Roger Charlton’s top-class stayer went close to adding the Goodwood Cup to his record after his Newcastle victory and was only beaten four lengths by Prince Of Penzance in Australia’s Melbourne Cup.

The Stowe Family Law LLP Grand Cup on May 21 is a possible comeback race for the six-year-old, though Sandown’s Henry II Stakes five days later is another option.

“He had a long break after running in the Melbourne Cup, but he’s done well,” said Charlton. “It has just taken time to get him back in good shape, we’ve been a bit behind with a lot of our horses this year. His main aim is the Ascot Gold Cup.”

Connections of So Mi Dar have confirmed that they will now be tackling the Epsom Oaks rather than the Derby with their star filly.

A clash with Aidan O’Brien’s impressive 1000 Guineas winner Minding in the fillies’ Classic on June 3 appears to be the preferred option after the John Gosden-trained filly ran out an easy winner of the Musidora Stakes at York on Wednesday.

She is owned by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and his wife Madeleine. Their racing manager Simon Marsh said: “She will, I am sure, go for the Oaks. I think the race has set itself up well, but both fillies have got to get there on the day. If they both run their races, it will be very interesting. She is a very exciting filly to have.”

Beautiful Romance is Royal Ascot-bound after gaining the most significant victory of her career in York’s Betfred Middleton Stakes yesterday.

Trained by Saeed bin Suroor, she quickened well under jockey James Doyle and both the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and the Hardwicke Stakes are options according to connections.

Doyle and bin Suroor completed a double when Always Smile held on for a gutsy victory in the Hambleton Handicap – it was the fourth win from five starts for the lightly-raced four-year-old who can now expect to go up in grade after being on the sidelines for 330 days.