Hoof It bids to strike an early blow for the locals when returning to action in the Duke Of York totepool Stakes, the highlight of day one of the Dante Festival at York.
Trained at Sheriff Hutton by the incomparable Mick Easterby, Hoof It has won three times down the straight course on Knavesmire, including when landing a handicap on his reappearance at this meeting 12 months ago.
He went on to create history by humping 10-stone to victory in the Stewards’ Cup and wound up the campaign with an unlucky third in the Haydock Sprint Cup.
Connections will be eager to get a Group One under his belt this term and although he does not have the fitness edge of today’s likely market rival Mayson, he is showing all the right signs at home.
David Easterby, assistant trainer to his father, said: “He’s in cracking order and he’s worked three times. We’ve taken him over to Tim Easterby’s and we’ve raced him on the grass at home, which was soft so he’s had his toe in.
“I am slightly worried that Mayson hasn’t done a thing wrong so far this year, but we’re going there with probably the horse to beat.
“I think he’s the best horse in the race. I think his best form will be on good to firm ground this year, but conditions are the same for everybody.
“We’ve won races with cut in the ground before and it’s not that much of a worry for us. The ground is drying out and we’ve had people walk the track. We’re thinking it’s firmer than they’re suggesting.
“Ancient Cross (stablemate) is rated nearly 100 and he went 10 lengths clear of him last Saturday, so I can’t say any more than that.”
Richard Fahey has always thought highly of Mayson and the four-year-old is now finally starting to deliver on his promise.
After finishing third behind The Cheka at Doncaster, he was a good winner of the Abernant Stakes before returning to Newmarket to land the Palace House.
“He’s in great order at the moment and he knows how to win now,” said Malton handler Fahey.
“He’s progressing the right way, he’s won a Listed race, a Group Three and now he’s in a Group Two.
“He seems as effective over five furlongs or six but if I had a choice I think he’s better over six.”
Mark Johnston pulled off a shock when saddling Good Morning Star to claim last week’s Cheshire Oaks at 50-1, and she bids to strike while the iron is hot in the Tattersalls Musidora Stakes.
Jockey Franny Norton said: “She went to Chester with a rating of 76 and it wasn’t the strongest Listed race, the ground was a factor also.
“So we’ll just go there and have a look and see where she’s going after that – who knows, if it wasn’t a fluke, there might be bigger and better things to come from her.”
Standing in her way, however, is Aidan O’Brien’s Twirl, as well as The Fugue, who finished fourth in the 1000 Guineas less than a fortnight ago.
The Dansili filly ran a pleasing race on what was her second racecourse start on the back of a win in a Newmarket maiden in October.
She is prominent in the betting for the Investec Oaks but Gosden is unsure about her stamina over a mile-and-a-half and feels he will find out a lot more this week. “She ran a nice race at Newmarket in the 1000 Guineas, especially as one ran into the back of her after a furlong or so, which meant she lost her stride for a bit,” said Gosden. “However, she finished the race strongly and has been in good form since.”
An exhibition chronicling the Queen’s involvement in horse racing will be one of the accompanying features of the Dante Festival. It coincides with the publication of ‘Her Majesty’s Pleasure’, a compelling book by Julian Muscat that charts the fortunes of horses like Carlton House, who was victorious at this meeting two years ago.