Defending champion Elarqam locks horns with last year’s Dante hero Telecaster in an intriguing renewal of the Sky Bet York Stakes.
A son of Frankel out of the stable’s superstar mare Attraction, Mark Johnston’s Elarqam produced a career-best performance to claim this 10-furlong Group Two 12 months ago – before finishing an excellent third in the Juddmonte International on his next start.
But the five-year-old returns to the Knavesmire with something to prove, having failed to build on the promise of his narrow defeat to subsequent Prince of Wales’s Stakes winner Lord North on his reappearance at Haydock when disappointing in the Hardwicke at Royal Ascot.
Charlie Johnston, assistant to his father, is confident Elarqam will bounce back, though – feeling a reproduction of his comprehensive defeat of dual Group One winner Addeybb in last year’s renewal will make him extremely hard to beat.
“I would need to go back and have a proper look at what he beat in the race last year, but I know we had Addeybb a few lengths behind us in second, and I’m not sure there’s anything of his quality in the race on Saturday,” said Johnston.
“We obviously didn’t run up to expectations in the Hardwicke. But he lost a shoe, and I just think the race went against him – they went hard early, and it turned into a war of attrition over a mile and a half, which possibly didn’t suit him.
“We know this course and distance suits him, because he obviously won the race last year and went on to be third in the Juddmonte International. He actually broke his maiden at York many moons ago, too.
“As I’ve said, I’m not sure it’s the deepest renewal, and if he runs up to the form of last year’s race I think he’ll win – simple as that.”
Telecaster was considered a leading contender for the Investec Derby after winning the Dante Stakes over this course and distance in May of last year. Hughie Morrison’s inmate ran below par at Epsom, though, and again on what proved his final start of 2019 in the Coral-Eclipse.
There was much more promise in his comeback run in the Brigadier Gerard at Haydock – finishing just over a length behind Elarqam – and he ran out a thoroughly impressive winner of the Group Three La Coupe at ParisLongchamp on his latest outing.
Morrison said: “It’s a Group Two race, so you expect it to be competitive, but it’s probably even more competitive than usual.
“We have quite a bit to find with Elarqam on ratings, and a bit to find with Aspetar and Regal Reality. Hopefully he can prove everyone wrong and show he’s the best horse in the race.
“I’m never confident, especially with this horse because he has disappointed a couple of times.
“I just hope he can run up to his best – and if that’s good enough for him to win, fantastic.”
The Roger Charlton-trained Aspetar is already a Group One winner, having landed the Preis von Europa at Cologne last September.
The Beckhampton maestro is expecting his five-year-old gelding to strip fitter for his first start of the season when narrowly beaten by Andre Fabre’s French raider Magny Cours in the Gala Stakes at Sandown three weeks ago.
“He ran a good race at Sandown against mainly race-fit rivals. Hopefully he’s improved – he seems in good order, anyway,” said Charlton.
“I think a mile and a quarter suits him well, and a bit of rain at York wouldn’t go amiss.
“Hopefully he goes there with a good chance, but you could say that about a few horses in the field. Our horse is pretty consistent, though, and I hope he’ll run another good race.”
Fox Chairman (Andrew Balding), King Of Comedy (John Gosden), Lord Glitters (David O’Meara) and Regal Reality (Sir Michael Stoute) complete the seven-strong field.