THE French invasion of York has already begun a year before the historic city hosts the start of stage two of the 2014 Tour De France.
Dalkala was a brilliant winner of yesterday’s Betfred Middleton Stakes while Top Trip carries French hopes in today’s Qipco Yorkshire Cup.
Fifth in both the Prix du Jockey Club and Grand Prix de Paris last summer, he is trained by the Francois Doumen – one of the great gentlemen of racing – who has had Cheltenham Festival success on these shores with the likes of jumping stars Baracouda and The Fellow.
The four-year-old made an encouraging return to action when sixth to Maxios in the Prix d’Harcourt over a mile-and-a-quarter at Longchamp last month.
Top Trip will be ridden by the 2011 Derby-winning jockey Mikael Barzalona, a jockey left short of rides after the drugs scandal to envelop Mahmood Al Zarooni’s yard.
“He hadn’t run since the Arc weekend last year because I didn’t want to run him on soft ground. We had to wait for better ground on his comeback race,” said Doumen.
“Although at first glance his run doesn’t look that good, if you look at the horses that finished just in front of him it wasn’t bad at all. He is a solid horse without being a big star. He has hardened up over the winter and I consider him a better horse than last year.”
Though the one-and-three-quarter mile trip will suit, Doumen will be worried about the going – it was soft by the end of yesterday after York was hit by a localised storm. “I think he prefers longer than the mile-and-a-half, but how far he can go, I don’t know yet. I don’t want any soft in the ground as he is a good-ground horse,” added Doumen.
Ed Dunlop took this race 12 months ago with Red Cadeaux and has an interesting runner this year in Joshua Tree.
The six-year-old entry has won at the highest level for Aidan O’Brien and Marco Botti and makes his debut for the Newmarket handler.
Glen’s Diamond put up probably a career-best performance in finishing second to Red Cadeaux in this race 12 months ago and his trainer Richard Fahey believes nothing less will do.
The son of Intikhab was disappointing in all his four subsequent starts last year and has to redeem himself as he begins the 2013 campaign.
Connections of Guarantee are hoping the application of blinkers will reignite the William Haggas-trained four-year-old’s enthusiasm today.
He showed little sparkle when sixth to Universal in the John Porter Stakes at Newbury, having been well beaten in the St Leger on his final start as a three-year-old.
However, he had looked a highly-promising young stayer when winning the Melrose Handicap over this course and distance last August and is again ridden by North Yorkshire jockey Phil Makin.
“He will wear blinkers as he seemed to get very lazy and lacklustre at Newbury,” said owners Highclere Thoroughbred Racing’s managing director Harry Herbert.
“But he has worked very well with blinkers on in the meantime.”