The 118-rated Communique heads the weights on 9st 10lb for the first £1-million Sky Bet Ebor (80 entries), the most valuable Flat handicap ever run in Europe.
The Sky Bet Ebor takes place over a mile and six furlongs at York on the fourth and final day of the Welcome To Yorkshire Ebor Festival, Saturday 24th August.
Trained by Mark Johnston, four-year-old Communique has been given top-weight after a decisive victory under a penalty in the 12-furlong G2 Princess Of Wales’s Stakes at Newmarket on 11th July, his second G2 success of the 2019 campaign.
Johnston, the most successful trainer ever, has six entries in total as he goes after a second Sky Bet Ebor triumph, with his team also featuring Duke Of Edinburgh Handicap victor Baghdad (9st 1lb) and the rapidly improving King’s Advice (9st), who has won seven of his eight starts in 2019.
Withhold (Roger Charlton) has been allotted 9st 5lb. He has a revised rating of 113 following his front-running victory in the extended two-mile Marsh Cup Handicap at Newbury on 20th July, his first outing for 269 days. The six-year-old, who has only raced 13 times, also has been successful in two other big staying handicaps, the Northumberland Plate at Newcastle in 2018 and the Cesarewitch at Newmarket in 2017.
G1 Melbourne Cup third Prince Of Arran (9st 2lb) is firmly on course for the Sky Bet Ebor. Charlie Fellowes’ stable star has not raced since March when he ran twice at Meydan’s Dubai World Cup Carnival, the pick of those efforts coming when fourth behind Old Persian in the G2 Dubai City Of Gold over 12 furlongs.
Fellowes reported: “Prince Of Arran is in great form following a little holiday and the Sky Bet Ebor is very much the plan.
“He has come to hand a little bit quicker than I was expecting and so there is a chance he could run beforehand at Goodwood next week.
“He doesn’t need to have a run as he generally goes well after a break, but if we do decide to go there it would be for the 12-furlong G3 [Glorious Stakes].
“The Sky Bet Ebor looks like it is going to be an absolutely cracking race. I think 14 furlongs around York is tailor made for our horse.
“His handicap mark of 110 is fine as he has been rated a bit higher in the past.”
Also lining up is Raheen House (William Haggas, 9st 3lb), winner of the G3 Bahrain Trophy at Newmarket in 2017 for his former trainer Brian Meehan.
The five-year-old was last seen when a close third in the G3 John Smith’s Silver Cup Stakes, run over the course and distance on 13th July. G1 runner-up Red Verdon (Ed Dunlop, 9st 4lb) was successful in that contest, edging out Gold Mount (Ian Williams, 9st 4lb) by a head with Raheen House a further short-head behind. Last year’s Sky Bet Ebor runner-up Weekender (John Gosden, 9st 3lb) and Kelly’s Dino (Karl Burke, 8st 11lb) were also in behind.
Gold Mount and Raheen House had earlier finished first and second in the Listed Sky Bet Race To The Ebor Grand Cup Stakes at York on 15th June, the third of three races in Sky Bet’s ‘Race to the Ebor’ in which the winner is guaranteed a start in the first £1-million Sky Bet Ebor for which 80 horses go forward but only 22 can take part on 24th August.
Weekender’s in-form trainer John Gosden, who took the spoils in 2018 with Muntahaa when the race was valued at £500,000, also has a guaranteed starter in First Eleven (9st 1lb), who captured the Sky Bet Jorvik Handicap on 15th May, the second race in Sky Bet’s ‘Race to the Ebor’. Gosden’s other Sky Bet Ebor hopefuls are Royal Ascot second Ben Vrackie (9st) and November Handicap victor Royal Line (9st 3lb).
If starting in the 2019 Sky Bet Ebor, Gold Mount and First Eleven will have their entry fees, totalling £5,000, refunded if finishing outside of the first eight. Horses finishing in the first eight all receive at least £5,000 in prize money.
More high-profile contenders include Salouen (Sylvester Kirk, 9st 7lb), who has finished second, third and fourth in G1 contests over a mile and a half, and dual G3 scorer Wells Farhh Go (Tim Easterby, 9st 4lb), successful on his return from injury in a Newmarket Listed event on 29th June.
A strong Irish challenge looks likely, with last year’s G1 Irish Derby hero Latrobe (Joseph O’Brien, 9st 4lb) and lightly-raced Listed scorer Falcon Eight (Dermot Weld, 9st 3lb) headlining a classy 15-strong team.
Ireland’s multiple champion Jump trainer Willie Mullins has an excellent record in staying races on the Flat. His seven contenders include last year’s beaten favourite Stratum (8st 8lb) and talented mare True Self (9st 2lb), plus the Susannah Ricci-owned Thomas Hobson (9st 4lb) and Max Dynamite (9st 2lb), who have both scored at G2 level on the Flat.
Michael Shinners, Racing PR Manager at Sky Bet, commented: “Withhold put up a superb performance on his seasonal reappearance at Newbury on 12th July and is Sky Bet’s joint-favourite alongside Raheen House, who has shaped with considerable promise in his two starts this season for William Haggas.
“The first £1-million Sky Bet Ebor is shaping nicely, with plenty of Pattern-class performers against the very best handicappers, and it looks set to be a fascinating race.”
The scratchings’ deadline for the Sky Bet Ebor is at noon on Tuesday, 6th August.
At the final declaration stage on Thursday 22nd August, in addition to the 22 declared runners two reserves will be named who can come into the Sky Bet Ebor if there are any non-runners by 1.00pm on Friday 23rd August.