Fields chasing Ebor gold
Published 21/08/2015 | 14:03
Fields Of Athenry will be sporting unfamiliar colours as he attempts to become the first three-year-old to win the Betfred Ebor since 2001.
Aidan O'Brien saddled Mediterranean to win the race 14 years ago and the Ballydoyle handler is also responsible for Fields Of Athenry, who is a leading fancy for next month's St Leger having won a Listed race and a Group Three on his last two outings.
Those triumphs came in the familiar dark blue of John Magnier, but rider Donnacha O'Brien will be wearing the brown and white quartered silks of Danish owner/breeder Flemming Velin this time.
The rider takes a valuable 5lb off the 9st 8lb Fields Of Athenry is supposed to carry and his trainer has high hopes.
"He's a hardy, tough horse and gets a mile and six well," said O'Brien.
"Seamie (Heffernan) went a good gallop on him at Leopardstown when he won the Ballyroan and he's progressing well."
After Roger Charlton declared top-weight Quest For More as a non-runner before the 9am cut-off point, first reserve Clondaw Warrior gets a run meaning Willie Mullins will be double handed.
The champion National Hunt trainer is becoming more familiar with his raids on the big Flat handicaps in England, but fans of the jumps will know his two representatives well.
Wicklow Brave won the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival but failed to see out the trip in the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot before finishing down the field in the Galway Hurdle behind Tony Martin's Quick Jack, who he meets again here.
Clondaw Warrior finished third in a competitive handicap hurdle at the Punchestown Festival but has since landed the Ascot Stakes at the Royal meeting before claiming a big race at the Galway Festival, for which he picked up a 4lb penalty.
However, the handicapper hiked him 11lb for that success and Mullins is hoping his charge can take full advantage in the hands of Frankie Dettori, with 7lb-claimer Jack Kennedy now on Wicklow Brave.
"I'm hoping Clondaw Warrior is well-in on his current rating" said Mullins.
"Their experience jumping will help them in a big field, but the rest are all hardy handicappers.
"I've used Jack once or twice and he won on Clondaw at Galway. I was a little surprised he was able to win as he did there.
"What I don't know is did he win because he liked Galway more than the rest? Will he be able to reproduce it on a track like York, a much more conventional track?
"With Wicklow we really liked him as a novice hurdler then he lost his way a bit before bouncing back. He's less exposed on the Flat and didn't stay at Royal Ascot.
"Hopefully Jack's claim will help him. You need a Listed horse just to get in this race these days."
Nick Peacock, owner of Wicklow Brave, added: "What is interesting is we had to give Quick Jack 17lb at Galway and we only give him 1lb in the Ebor, so it will be interesting.
"I think it's ideal trip-wise. He has a middle-distance pedigree and I think anything from a mile and a half to two miles is fine for him."
William Haggas makes no secret of the fact this is his favourite meeting of the season and he won four of the first eight races at the fixture.
He runs Arabian Comet, one of only two representing the fairer sex, the other being John Kiely's Toe The Line.
"I think a fast pace will really suit her as she is much better in strongly-run races than small fields," said Haggas.
"They never go off very quick in the fillies' races she's been running in and I spotted she was 25-1 for the Ebor or 25-1 for the Yorkshire Oaks, so we've gone for the Ebor and I'm quite excited."
Hughie Morrison, who was on the mark on Thursday with Chil The Kite, is fearful the ground may ruin the chances of Arab Dawn, although it may play to the strengths of Fun Mac and Nearly Caught.
"The ground will be a key influence on how they run," said Morrison.
"I think Arab Dawn would prefer fast ground, while the other two would not be inconvenienced on slower ground as it would help slow the others down.
"All three are working very well. If the ground was fast I would be very bullish about Arab Dawn, but there is not much between the other two."
Marco Botti's Suegioo is a standing dish in these staying handicaps and will sport first-time blinkers for his 25th outing.
"Any more rain would be appreciated as I just worry that the one-mile-six-furlong trip on quicker ground might be a bit sharp for him. I am really happy with him and we are swapping the cheekpieces for blinkers to try to sharpen him up," said Botti.
"I was happy with his piece of work at the weekend and he seems in great order. It is a tough race to win, but he is one of those horses that has done nothing wrong. He ran well in a Listed race last time out."
Mark Johnston has not won the Ebor since way back in 1992 when Quick Ransom and Dean McKeown kept the prize in Yorkshire and he runs both Notarised and Watersmeet, who fought out the Old Newton Cup earlier in the season.
Assistant trainer Charlie Johnston said of the pair: "Both horses always run their races and have good, solid form this season. Notarised won at the track in the spring and has also won at Haydock, while Watersmeet ran well in a Group Three last time out.
"Both horses have nothing to hide from the handicapper and it may be that there will be a few in there which are better handicapped, but they will run their races and can hopefully run in the first five or six."