WINNER of a Nottingham maiden in November, the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Desert Crown (Richard Kingscote) had become the Derby buzz horse in recent days, with a gamble developing on him for Epsom even without him being seen in public.
A market drifter on the day of his return in the Group 2 Dante Stakes, the colt was sent off joint favourite at 7/2, but the market unease was not reflected in a performance which reflected all the rumours of his brilliant home work.
Held up in rear early, as White Wolf set a solid pace, Desert Crown was pulled out to make his move towards the centre of the track in the straight, and showed a sustained burst of acceleration to get to the front before clearing away from his rivals to score by a comfortable three and a quarter lengths from Royal Patronage (Mark & Charlie Johnston/Jason Hart), with Aidan O’Brien’s Bluegrass a further two and a half lengths back in third under Ryan Moore.
This looked a strong enough renewal on paper, with the runner-up having won the Acomb here impressively before beating 2000 Guineas winner Coroebus in the Royal Lodge, and it also featured Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud winner El Bodegon, who had beaten Stone Age for that win.
The latter failed to fire on faster ground here, but Royal Patronage relished the longer trip and ran his race, making Desert Crown look the real deal, at least at 10 furlongs.
This was Stoute’s seventh Dante win, and he’s gone on to complete the Dante/Derby double with both Shahrastani (1986) and North Light (2004).
Punters and bookmakers alike were impressed by the performance, and Desert Crown is a general 2/1 shot for Epsom after his demolition.
Referring to a setback which had prevented the winner having an earlier prep run, and looking forward to Epsom, Stoute said:
“He had that hold up and he was only really ready for a race now so I’m very pleased, he was very smooth. His temperament isn’t a problem, he’s a very relaxed horse.
“I like the Dante; it’s a good trial, a good test. He’s got further to go at Epsom, but I’d be very hopeful it wouldn’t be a problem. I’ve no idea what’s left to come from him, others in the race are bound to improve, too, but you’d have to expect improvement from him as it is only his second start.
“He was impressive in his maiden, but as he got behind with the hold up and behind schedule, we had to do what we did, and he didn’t let me down - he surprised me, actually.
“What he showed me there was very encouraging. Other than Workforce [beaten in the Dante before winning at Epsom], all my Dante horses had had a previous race early in the season so that was very encouraging.”
Lilac gives Haggas home win
THERE’S nothing which gives the Newmarket-based son of Yorkshire more pleasure than a winner on the Knavesmire, and William Haggas rarely leaves a York meeting without some silverware.
So it was again here, and his Lilac Road (Tom Marquand) took the Group 2 Middleton Stakes. It was a muddling contest in which the outsiders ended up coming to the fore, with 15/2 chance Lilac Road beating 20/1 ‘rag’ Aristia (Richard Hannon/Sean Levey) by half a length, with favourite Thunder Kiss just a respectable third for Ger Lyons and Colin Keane, and Jessie Harrington’s Forbearance last in a race in which Aristia was allowed to dictate steady fractions.
Lilac Road has found improvement for being held up in recent starts and produced a career best here. She wasn’t seen to best effect in the Dahlia Stakes at Newmarket on her return and benefited from that run to gain a first win at Group 2 level.
She will stay further, and the winning rider was of the impression that she will be at least as effective at a mile and a half.
Last Crusader (Danny Tudhope) led home a one-two for trainer Karl Burke in the Listed Westow Stakes over five furlongs, to give owner Steve Parkin some rebate for his sponsorship at the meeting; the 15/2 chance made all to gain a two-and-a-quarter-length success over Guilded (Clifford Lee), in a race where Aidan O’Brien’s market leader King Of Bavaria proved a flop.
The winner had been pitched into the Abernant Stakes against older horses on his return, and he justified that ambition by running out an impressive winner against his own age group here, looking ideally suited by five furlongs.
Speaking of the possibility of going up in trip for the Commonwealth Cup, Burke was not in a rush to commit, saying:
“He’s got some big entries, but we have to go home and think about it a bit. He’s a proper horse and we need to let him develop. The sky’s the limit for him.”
It was a good day for Burke who trained three winners on the Friday at the meeting.