Paul Mulrennan - A Jockey’s Diary: Ancient Cross’s liking for York can get me off to flying start in Festival

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I’m delighted to succeed twice champion jockey Paul Hanagan as the Yorkshire Post’s new Flat racing columnist.

Every Friday, between now and the end of York Racecourse’s 2012 season in October, I’ll be sharing some views from the weighing room as well as endeavouring to highlight the horses that I think are my major chances at the forthcoming weekend fixtures, and offer insights into some of my best hopes at festival meetings.

I was thrilled to have a winner at Chester’s May Festival this week. I have a good record around The Roodee – and now I want to replicate that form at the Dante Festival at York next week, one of the highlights of the year for British racing.

I’m rattling up the road miles in the next day or two, with one ride at Chester this afternoon and then on to Nottingham for the evening fixture.

I reckon my best chance of a winner today will be in the closing race at the Colwick Park track at 8.30pm. My Mate Jake is trained by James Given. I’m a frequent visitor to the successful training operation that James has operated in Lincolnshire for 13 years, and I’d love to help the yard repeat the Betfred Ebor success of Hugs Dancer in 2002. Of course, James started out in racing as assistant trainer to Mark Johnston in Middleham.

I rode My Mate Jake a couple of times at Knavesmire as a two-year-old in 2010, but this is his seasonal debut in 2012. He has been working really well at home and I think he’ll run a big race later today.

Tomorrow provides me with another double-header – Nottingham again in the afternoon and then nearer to home at Thirsk for evening racing.

Finbar, another horse from James Given’s yard, is my best chance of the day. He’s in the 4.25pm race at the East Midlands track. The three-year-old has won twice on the all-weather at Southwell and had an encouraging run last month during Newmarket’s Craven meeting. That was a good prep race and he won’t mind the softer underfoot conditions that he will experience tomorrow at Nottingham.

The feature race of the afternoon is the Kilvington Stakes. Pepper Lane is my mount and I’m delighted to have been booked for the ride by David O’Meara, who has made a tremendous success of his training career over the last couple of years in North Yorkshire.

It’ll be a quick teatime dash up the A1 to Thirsk for evening racing in time for the first race in which I’m engaged at 7.15pm.

The horse that I’d probably pick out from my four rides is the Mick Easterby-trained Iceblast in the 8.45pm. He’s been a regular at York Racecourse in the last two years; in fact, he made his debut at Knavesmire. Although his sole victory was at Thirsk – and it was over the same six-furlong distance that he encounters tomorrow evening – I think he could be well handicapped.

I always look forward to the Dante Festival at York, and this year is no exception.

I’m sweet on the chances of Ancient Cross, who will run in the opening handicap race on Thursday – the Betfred Mobile Sports Stakes. Also trained at Mick Easterby’s Sheriff Hutton yard, he won the corresponding race at the Dante Festival 12 months ago and he really enjoys racing around York. If he can win, it will certainly get the day of the Betfred Dante Stakes off to a cracking start for me.

Although he is not my mount, I can report that Hoof It is in fine fettle at Mick’s yard ahead of the Group 2 £100,000 Duke of York Stakes, the showpiece race on Wednesday, the first day of the Festival.

The five-year-old will be going for his Dante Festival hat-trick, after victories in both 2010 and 2011. He also won the Skybet Dash last July, so his Knavesmire credentials are excellent.

Before the three-day Dante Festival gets under way on Wednesday, I’m also looking forward to riding No Dominion in the 4.30pm race at Redcar on Monday. Another James Given horse, he hasn’t won in his three career starts to date. However, I rate him and think he will be a horse to follow this season.

Enjoy the first two days of the Dante Festival.

Next week, I’ll offer my thoughts on the prospects for the final day of the Festival, featuring the Group 2 Sportingbet Yorkshire Cup, which is part of the second QIPCO British Champions Series.

The opening meeting of the 2012 Flat racing season at York Racecourse is the Dante Festival. Book to see Yorkshire Post columnist Paul Mulrennan in action at York Races from Wednesday, May 16 through to Friday, May 18 at or by calling the racecourse on 01904 620911. Admission to the Course Enclosure, Grandstand & Paddock and County Stand ranges from £5 to £30. Three-day admission is from £10 to £77. The first race time on each of the three days is currently scheduled for 1.30pm. Gates will be open from 11.15am.