The Ebor, which will top off York's biggest meeting of the year on August 25th, has Tony McFadden salivating at the prospect of an outsider rising to a win.
The Ebor, for so long the preserve of the unexposed and improving three-year-old, has fundamentally changed in recent years, with representatives of the classic generation becoming an increasing rarity.
Three-year-olds, unless having proven themselves to be Group-class performers, essentially have no chance of making the final cut; the 2012 renewal looks like it may be the third year in succession that none of the younger brigade will compete. The wider issue, however, is that it is not just three-year-olds which struggle to make the cut: progressive, unexposed horses of any age have been affected by an increasing amount of highly-rated, but not so well treated, horses taking their chance in Europe's richest handicap.
Ante-post favourite Motivado, so impressive at Glorious Goodwood and which looks to have concealed a fair bit of his ability from the handicapper, is by no means certain to make the line-up at this stage. A 4lb penalty for that comfortable victory certainly helps his prospects, but it has to be noted that he would not have made it into the race last year. Looking at those entered above him, the suspicion is that he will just about creep into the prestigious contest, carrying extremely strong claims with him. However, his current price of (6.0) looks plenty short enough given there are doubts about his participation, and even though your stake will be returned should he be balloted out, there doesn't appear to be any great advantage in backing him now.
Luca Cumani has gained a reputation as a man to be feared in the big handicaps, partially due to his record in this race, and he will be hoping to saddle the unexposed Qahriman. Successful over the course and distance on his last start in June, Qahriman has been put away with the Ebor being his principal target for the season. The form of that victory has taken a few knocks, but the style the win was achieved in marks this lightly-raced four-year-old down as a formidable opponent for anyone in staying handicaps. However, he faces a similar problem to Motivado, amplified by the fact he is even further down the list of horses hoping to get a run. It is difficult to recommend him in light of the fact that he probably won't get into the race, but the current price of (15.0) certainly holds some appeal as he is exactly the type of horse his highly-capable trainer has exceled with over the years and he could be open to further improvement.
Dealing with those guaranteed to get a run, Camborne, successful when last seen at Royal Ascot, merits serious consideration. His impressive turn of foot on that occasion marked him down as a horse that could eventually operate at a higher level and there is every chance that he is still progressing. However, there is definitely a quirky element to John Gosden's charge, as he wandered about having hit the front and looked rather idle. The handicapper has also had his say, hitting him with a 9lb rise for that success which leaves him looking no better than fairly treated for this contest.
Runner-up to Camborne, French challenger Hammerfest looks likely to reoppose in the Ebor and is entitled to respect. Ascot was his sole raid on these shores and he performed well, only undone by Camborne's potent turn of foot. Hammerfest travelled with noticeable enthusiasm throughout that contest and the big-field, strongly-run race which often unfolds in the Ebor should suit him better than many of the French contests he has been competing in. He looks like a solid proposition, but, similarly to Camborne, might find himself slightly too high in the weights, so whilst he should go well there is no real value in his current price.
Looking at those at bigger prices, Parlour Games would have to be considered if taking up his engagement. A winner of the Melrose Stakes last year, over the same course and distance as the Ebor, Parlour Games went on to perform creditably in a listed contest at Kempton where he again confirmed the impression that stamina was his forte. The concern is that he has not been seen on a racecourse since disappointing on his seasonal return at Nottingham back in April, but if Mahmood Al Zarooni can produce his colt in good form then current odds of (60.0) look generous, although they tend to suggest his participation isn't assured.
Dreamspeed didn't produce a particularly inspiring performance at Newbury on his return from a two-year absence, but his subsequent effort, when making his belated handicap bow in the Old Newton Cup, was significantly more promising, finishing fourth having travelled enthusiastically. He has a couple of good bits of pattern-level form to his name, notably when chasing home Clowance and Poet in the St Simon Stakes in 2010, and, although not obviously well treated off a BHA mark of 99, isn't one to write off if capable of building on the promise of the Haydock effort. Whether he will stay the trip has to rate as a concern given his pedigree and running style, but he is relatively lightly-raced for his age and may offer the best value in the race, currently available @ Betfair odds of (36.00.
Dreamspeed's Haydock conqueror Number Theory is another uncertain to get a run, but, having rattled up a hat-trick, it wouldn't rate as a great shock where he to launch a bold bid if lining up on the day. Media Hype will probably need to pick up a penalty if he is to have a chance of making the final line-up, but would hold strong claims if the step up in trip could conjure any improvement.
This year's Ebor is a typically tricky puzzle to solve, and the uncertainty over whether many of the market principals will make it into the race further clouds the issue.
At this stage, it may be prudent not to get too heavily involved, but it could be worth taking a chance on a lively outsider, guaranteed to get a run, in the event that the strongly-fancied horses miss out. Dreamspeed could be the horse to fit the bill. Injuries have hampered his progress to date, but he has hinted at being a useful performer on more than once occasion and at the prices rates as a value proposition.
Best Bet @ Betfair
Back Dreamspeed @ 36.0 in the Ebor