Much attention at York on Saturday is likely to surround star filly Laurens, as the multiple Group One winner struts her stuff at seven furlongs in the Sky Bet City of York Stakes.
It will be the first time Karl Burke’s flag-bearer has run at the trip since her second outing as a juvenile, with connections feeling she has the requisite speed for this weekend’s assignment.
The hope is the Group Two contest will act as the perfect preparation for the Matron Stakes back over a mile at Leopardstown on Irish Champions Weekend.
That race was won by Laurens 12 months ago, and is one of six top-level contests that adorn her CV – the most recent of which came last time out at Deauville in the Prix Rothschild.
North Yorkshire-based Burke said of the John Dance-owned four-year-old: “She’s in great form, I couldn’t be happier with her. I’m really pleased with the draw as well – six of 10 is perfect for her, it’ll suit her way of running.
“We’re all really looking forward to seeing her run, we can’t wait.”
A fascinating rival to Laurens is the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Eqtidaar – winner of the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot last year.
His career has been stop-start since, and he was last seen at Leicester in April.
Angus Gold, racing manager to owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, said: “He’s been off a long time. Sir Michael felt he just wasn’t finishing off his races, so we’ve just touched up his wind a bit.
“We’re trying to get him back on track. I think if there had been a suitable six-furlong race, he’d have probably run him in that, but I think he feels York is the right track for him.
“We want to see where we are with him. This horse needs racing. He hasn’t been over-raced.”
In what looks a good renewal of the race, Wokingham winner Cape Byron represents Roger Varian after finishing down the field in the July Cup, while the in-form Sir Dancealot – something of a specialist at seven furlongs – runs for David Elsworth.
Another interesting domestic challenger is the Andrew Balding-trained Shine So Bright, winner of the European Free Handicap and not seen since finishing sixth to Magna Grecia in the Qipco 2000 Guineas.
Balding said: “He had a setback after the Guineas and he has had a nice break, but this is quite an ask on the back of a long break against race-fit opposition.
“The horse seems in great form and fast ground on a track like that should be fine. We were toying with the idea of running at Goodwood, but he was not quite ready in time and this suited him better.
“It was a smashing run in the Guineas, but he didn’t quite get home. It looked like he was going to finish second until the last half-furlong when he was just outstayed.”
Gordon Lord Byron won the City of York in 2012 and is still going strong for Tom Hogan as an 11-year-old. He is part of a strong Irish raiding party, with Aidan O’Brien calling on the smart Le Brevido and Jessica Harrington saddling Servalan.
Balding has claims with Bangkok in the opening race on the card, the Sky Bet And Symphony Group Strensall Stakes.
The son of Australia was sent off at just 9-1 for the Investec Derby after a fine start to the season.
He did not enjoy his Epsom experience, but has bounced back with two solid runs, particularly at Royal Ascot, where he was second to this week’s Juddmonte International winner Japan in the King Edward VII Stakes.
Balding added: “We hoped he might make into a Derby horse, but he has siblings that are effective between a mile and a mile and a quarter. He is a horse that has shown plenty of speed at home and this looks an interesting trip to have a go at.
“Silvestre (de Sousa) felt that he just didn’t handle the loose ground on his last start, but it should be perfect ground this time.
“The best of his form stacks up really well. He was only beaten by Japan at Ascot, he beat Telecaster, who won the Dante, in his maiden and he beat Technician at Sandown, who has since won a Group race.
“He takes some really good form into the race.”
An obvious danger is Wissahickon for the all-conquering John Gosden and Frankie Dettori.
A real star over the winter on the all-weather, the George Strawbridge-owned colt has his first start on grass since winning the Cambridgeshire at Newmarket in September.