Racing returns to the Knavesmire as York stages its richest ever Dante Festival worth over £1.3million in prize money

York’s Dante Festival, featuring a host of top quality races, including key trials for the Cazoo Oaks and Cazoo Derby, starts this afternoon.

Class act: The unbeaten Emily Upjohn, trained by John and Thady Gosden, is the ante-post favourite for the Musidora Stakes at York. Picture: Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

There is a record prize fund of £1.35m across the three days of action – with each race worth at least £20,000 – as crowds return to the meeting for the first time since 2019.

Today’s feature race is the £125,000 Group 3 Musidora Stakes – a key trial for the Oaks – and won by last year by Aidan O’Brien’s outstanding Snowfall, who was named Cartier three-year-old filly of the year after adding the English, Irish and Yorkshire Oaks to her roll of honour.

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O’Brien saddles The Algarve in a five-runner race, but all eyes will be on overnight favourite Emily Upjohn, trained by John and Thady Gosden, who has won both her starts and is vying for favouritism for the Epsom showpiece with O’Brien’s Tuesday.

Top prospect: Emily Upjohn's trainer, John Gosden. (Photo by Edward Whitaker/Pool via Getty Images)

York racecourse chief executive William Derby is looking forward to seeing her in action and is thrilled crowds will be able to see the horse bis to become the eighth filly to win the Musidora and Epsom Oaks.

He said: “We held our annual badge holders dinner last week and so many of them are just thrilled to be back on the course looking ahead to the Dante Festival and with enthusiasm and excitement for the season ahead.

“Emily Upjohn is a Sea The Stars filly, unbeaten in two runs and a leading fancy for the Oaks at Epsom.

“So if she wins the Musidora that will really ignite the Oaks picture.”

Richest Dante: York's chief executiove and clerk of the course, William Derby. Picture by Simon Hulme

Trainer John Gosden is hopeful his horse will prosper as she steps up in class.

He said: “She is a big, rangy filly. She’s won her maiden and novice – and done it nicely.

“But now she’s moving up to a completely different grade, taking on other smart winners. We’ll learn an awful lot more about her (at York). She’s one of those fillies who will get better with age because she certainly has the scope and frame to do it.”

Today’s other big race is the Group Two 1895 Duke of York Clipper Logistics Stakes, where the subsequent champion sprinter of the season is regularly seen in the fastest contest of the week.

Staged over six furlongs, the winner is usually seen in the mix for all the summer’s big sprints, with Roger Varian’s Dragon Symbol heading the market from Owen Burrows’ 2020 York Gimcrack winner Minzaal.

Yorkshire is represented by Karl Burke’s Spycatcher, Highfield Princess for John Quinn and Emaraaty Ana from the Kevin Ryan team.

Tomorrow sees The Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante, the race that gives the Festival its name by honouring the last Yorkshire trained winner of the Derby back in 1945.

The Group Two contest is offering a record prize fund of £175,000 and has seen 10 previous winners go on and win the Epsom race, the most recent being Golden Horn in 2015.

Emily Upjohn’s stablemate Magisterial, will be sent on a similar fact-finding assignment when he contests the race. The son of Frankel was one of nine colts that stood their ground at Tuesday’s 48-hour declaration stage.

He won on his second career start at Haydock last October before reappearing last month at Leicester where he made all to score by a length and half in a mile and a quarter novice race.

Magisterial, who has an entry for the Epsom Derby, will seek to prove himself against a different level of competition, including the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Desert Crown and El Bodegon, handler James Ferguson’s first Group 1 winner.

John Gosden said: “He got the run of the race (at Leicester).

“This is the Dante – there’s always smart colts in there. And I think from that point of view, he deserves to take his chance – then we will know which way we want to go with him afterwards.”

Friday’s principal race, The Yorkshire Cup, boasts a new sponsor in Paddy Power, with the well-known brand also becoming the betting partner to the Dante Festival.

Derby said: “We are really pleased to welcome our new sponsors Paddy Power to the Dante festival.

“They are supporting the Paddy Power Yorkshire Cup as well as the huge partnership we have with Leeds-based Sky Bet across the season ahead. We are really proud of that relationship and support.”

Great Habton’s Tim Easterby begins the defence of what was his second leading trainer title at York with competition again set to be fierce for the Charles Clinkard-backed Top Trainer Trophy.

Tom Marquand bagged his first Living North Magazine Top Jockey Trophy and both are represented at the course today.