Aidan O’Brien hopes John F Kennedy and Ol’ Man River can get bounce back to form in today’s Betfred Dante Stakes at York and, in doing so, boost their Investec Derby hopes.
The Ballydoyle duo are on retrieval missions after flopping in the Ballysax Stakes and Qipco 2000 Guineas respectively.
The drying ground is expected to bring out much better performances from the pair, who were Group-race winners as two-year-olds and O’Brien anticipates an improved showing.
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O’Brien said: “They are both coming into it off disappointing runs.
“John F Kennedy disappointed at Leopardstown, but it was a while ago and the ground was heavy. Hopefully he can leave that run behind.
“Ol’ Man River disappointed in the Guineas, but maybe he wasn’t ready mentally and it was probably the wrong thing to run him.
“A mile and a quarter on nice ground — we’ll learn a lot more about him. Joseph (O’Brien) knew it was his first run of the season and wasn’t going to give him a hard time. Hopefully he’ll run well.”
John Gosden hopes to have leading contenders for both the Epsom Derby and the French Derby after today.
The Newmarket trainer feels the Knavesmire is the perfect track to unleash potential Classic horses and has no qualms about pitching Jack Hobbs, the ante-post favourite for Epsom, and his Prix du Jockey Club entry Golden Horn in the same race.
“I think this is a proper track with a long straight. There are no excuses here, no hiding places. It’s a very true track,” said Gosden.
“If you’re having trials for the Derbies you have to bring them here and see exactly where they belong.
“One is in the English Derby and one is in the French Derby, so it makes sense to run together.
“They are both relatively inexperienced horses and have had only two races in their lives. They are still works in progress. Tomorrow will tell us a lot more.”
Gosden believes it is folly for the bookmakers to have Jack Hobbs as market leader for the Derby on the back of a Sandown handicap win.
“I think it’s a bit silly that Jack Hobbs is the price he is for the Derby, there’s no market yet but come 4pm tomorrow there will be,” he said.
Golden Horn is also two from two and has impressed Gosden in the build-up.
“His work last Friday was exceptional, and I could easily see him going and winning tomorrow because 10 furlongs is his trip,” said Gosden.
“If he does win then the owner has a decision to make, but if he doesn’t want to go to Epsom we’ll go to France.”
Elm Park is the sole Group One winner in the line-up thanks to his emphatic success in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster in October.
He was due to have made his seasonal debut in the 2000 Guineas but fast ground forced connections to go to plan B.
Trainer Andrew Balding reports the son of Phoenix Reach in good shape and is pleased he took Elm Park for a racecourse gallop at Newbury last month as it blew away the cobwebs.
“Elm Park seems very well and this has been his intended starting point since we were forced to miss the 2000 Guineas,” said the Kingsclere handler.
“I think he will come on for the run but he’s done enough at home and goes there in good shape.
“The Derby is the plan and, all being well, he’ll head to Epsom after York.”
It is 43 years Barry Hills won the Dante with Rheingold, who was then just touched off by Roberto in the Derby.
The veteran trainer tries for the last time before he retires with Nafaqa, who was rerouted to York after being a late withdrawal from the Dee Stakes at Chester last week due to the rain-softened ground.
Nafaqa was only beaten a length by Elm Park in the Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket in the autumn and made a pleasing return when runner-up to Kool Kompany in the Craven Stakes back at Headquarters.
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