The Dante Stakes – A Preview

The Dante Stakes is a Group 2 which is run over a distance of 1m 2f 88yds and has been traditionally seen as a key trial for the Epsom Derby. The race is named after Dante who was the last Northern trained horse to win the Derby way back in 1945.

The race was first run in 1958 and since then nine winners of the Dante have gone on to win at Epsom. The last to do so was Authorised in 2007. The last placed horse to win the Derby was the Sir Michael Stoute trained Workforce, who ran second in the 2010 Dante before going to win the big race. Last year’s winner The Grey Gatsby was a classic winner when he went on to win the French Derby, the Prix du Jockey-Club.

This years renewal looks a cracker with eight declared to go to post and at the time of writing the first three in the ante post betting for the Derby are Jack Hobbs, Elm Park and John F Kennedy in the field. The recent dry weather means it’s highly likely that the race will be run on good ground.

Given the size of the field I will look at each of the runners in betting order:

Jack Hobbs – Favourite for the Derby in most bookmaker ante post lists after his recent impressive win in a Sandown handicap. A winner of his only start at Wolverhampton back in December. He beat a decent field at Sandown on his return, in a good time and what was impressive was the way he quickened up at the furlong mark to put lengths between himself and his rivals.

Undoubtedly he looks a class act and should prove well up to Group company this year but it shows just how unimpressive that the Derby trials have been that he is favourite for the Derby. He will have come on well for his Sandown run and should be suited by the York track. We will know more about his ability later this afternoon!

I wouldn’t be surprised to see him improve further and win today but there is better value to be found.

Elm Park – Trained by Andrew Balding comes into the race with arguably the best form. Last year he was a good winner of the Royal Lodge Stakes before going on to win the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster. Indeed he was the first juvenile in 32 years to complete the Royal Lodge/Racing Post Trophy double. He was due to run in the 2000 Guineas but missed the race due to the quickening ground.

Making his seasonal reappearance today he looks a real galloper a bit like Kingston Hill who was the previous winner of the Racing Post Trophy. On what he has achieved on the racecourse he should be a shorter price than Jack Hobbs and the 7/2 available with Ladbrokes looks fair value. A big run can be expected and he looks the likely winner although his chances would be enhanced with slightly slower ground.

John F Kennedy – Won his last two starts as a juvenile, being very impressive when winning his final start a Group 3 at Leopardstown. He entered the winter as Derby favourite in most bookmaker lists but his seasonal reappearance at Leopardstown was poor as he finished a well beaten last of three. Now the ground that day was very soft and the horse will be better suited by quicker going as he showed last year. That said it was still a poor run and his head carriage when asked for his effort didn’t look great to me either. That can be put down to the ground but it could also be a symptom of something else.

Given the stable it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to see him leave that form well behind on better ground and if you do fancy him for the Derby you would be advised to take the 8/1 about his Derby chances now as he will be lot shorter if he was to win or finish close up here.

Ol’ Man River – Besides John F Kennedy, trainer Aiden O’Brien also saddles Ol’ Man River. A winner of his two starts as a juvenile, this son of Monjeu went into winter quarters a very strong contender for the Derby. He made his seasonal reappearance in the 2000 Guineas and was well backed on the morning of the race but ran no sort of race.

He was in trouble two furlongs out and his jockey wisely eased him down. Something was clearly amiss with the horse in the Guineas and like his stablemate he has questions to answer after that run. Whilst he can win if he back to his best I prefer the chances of John F Kennedy more.

Golden Horn – Trained like Jack Hobbs by John Gosden is another serious contender. A winner of his only start as two year old last October at Nottingham, he returned to action at Newmarket with a good win in the Fielden Stakes over 1m 1f at Newmarket. He showed his relative inexperience that day but was staying on strongly at the finish. He will be suited by today’s extra furlong and should improve further.

Whether he is up to this level just yet is questionable and the trainer looks to have a better contender in Jack Hobbs but his chances shouldn’t be underestimated!

Nafaqa – Barry Hills is in his last season as a trainer and as a classic winner he knows what sort of horse is needed to win such races. Nafaqa ran five times as two year old winning twice before finishing a length second to Elm Park in the Royal Lodge. He made his seasonal return in the Craven Stakes over a mile and he ran well to finish second to Kool Komapny but not surprisingly didn’t have the speed to trouble the winner in a race run at an unsuitably slow pace for this son of Derby winner Sir Percy. He was due to run in last weeks Dee Stakes at Chester but missed the race due to the rain softened ground. His trainer thinks a lot of the horse who was always expected to make it up into a three year old.

He will be suited by the drying ground and should be able to improve further for today’s extra distance. Given his proximity to Elm Park last year I think his chances seem to have been underestimated by the bookmakers in their ante post lists. I am not sure I see him as a winner of what looks a hot renewal but he looks good each way value at around 16/1.

Lord Ben Stack and Medrano make up the eight strong field but look outclassed and are playing for prize money.

3:15 York Dante Stakes Betting Advice – Each Way on Nafaqa – 16/1 @ Coral

The Derby picture should become clearer after the race and it’s highly likely that the first two home in the Dante will be the first two in the betting for the Derby. One certainty is that the Dante winner will be favourite for the Epsom race.

Elm Park looks the likely winner of the race but I wouldn’t be surprised to see John F Kennedy redeem his slightly tarnished reputation on the anticipated better ground, but in what should be an informative race I am going to suggest an each way bet on Nafaqa.

John Burke

I have a MA in International Politics and having spent a number of years working in political campaigning but I eventually I realised that politics was not the world where I wanted to work I had been interested in horse racing since the late 1980s but in the early years I was merely just betting and watching racing like most people as a bit of fun and a hobby, then the hobby becomes a passion and that’s what happened to me with horse racing. I soon realised that to make money from my hobby I had to learn as much as I could about the sport and betting in general. The whole process took time but after a number of successful years of betting, I decided in 2011 to take the plunge, gave up my full time day job and decided to bet on horse racing as a part time business and I haven’t looked back since. I like to specialise in the better class of races and I love to solve the puzzles posed by big field handicaps the latter races often provide punters with great value betting opportunities. Whilst most of my time is spent reviewing previous races I like to keep things as simple as possible as even the biggest field handicaps can usually be pruned down to half a dozen strong contenders with the right sort of approach.

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