NORTH YORKSHIRE-TRAINED winners of the Dante Stakes are clearly like London buses – you wait more than 50 years for one to come along, and then two arrive in the space of 12 months.
Just as the Middleham-based Libertarian sprung a huge surprise to land York’s prestigious Derby trial last May, so The Grey Gatsby, trained by Kevin Ryan at the top of Sutton Bank in Hambleton, upset the odds on the Knavesmire yesterday.
Rated the fourth of the six runners at 9-1 by the bookmakers, The Grey Gatsby built on his tenth-placed finish in this month’s 2,000 Guineas to hand Ryan one of the biggest successes of his career and place a serious dent in the Derby ambitions of True Story, who could only finish a distant third despite being a well-supported odds-on shot.
The Grey Gatsby does not hold a Derby entry, and given that a mile-and-a-half would appear to be the absolute limit of his stamina, he is unlikely to be supplemented for Epsom.
Instead, he is likely to contest the French equivalent, the Prix du Jockey Club, over ten furlongs at Chantilly, but after a harrowing 2013 that saw his daughter, Amy, suffer a distressing fall at York that ripped her shoulder from its socket, and one of his stable jockeys, Brian Toomey, spend two weeks in an induced coma after a sickening fall at Perth, Ryan can at least look forward to some brighter days.
“It’s lovely to win a big race like this here,” he said. “We won’t rush into making a decision about what happens next, but it’s nice to have that kind of decision to make.
“You don’t get a lot of chances to win a race like the Dante, so to do it is absolutely great. It’s going to take a little bit of time for it all to sink in.”
Three times a runner-up in Group company after making a winning start to his two-year-old career at York, The Grey Gatsby went one better in fine style under Ryan Moore.
With True Story failing to settle in the early stages and Richard Hannon’s Bunker hitting a flat spot shortly after the turn, The Grey Gatsby found himself in front going into the final furlong.
He briefly drifted to the stands’ rail, which resulted in a nervous wait for a stewards’ enquiry, but dug deep to repel the fast-finishing Arod, who burst through to claim second place.
There must be a slight temptation to supplement him for the Derby, given that the field for the Epsom Classic has rapidly fallen apart. Aidan O’Brien’s Australia is now an odds-on favourite, and it is hard to see too many viable challengers outside of the colt’s stable-mates at Ballydoyle.
Nevertheless, Ryan appears determined to resist the temptation of pitching The Grey Gatsby into the heat of an Epsom battle, although he has not ruled out further forays over a mile-and-a-half in the future.
“I definitely don’t think he will go to Epsom,” he said. “I don’t think the track will suit him, although you don’t really want to be making a decision like that straightaway so we’ll probably wait 24 hours.
“He’s entered in the French Derby, and that would appear to be the right race for him. He’s a good horse, so this isn’t too much of a surprise. He’s quite a fast horse, but I’m a great believer that a top-class mile-and-a-half horse has to have a bit of speed.
“I thought he ran well in the Guineas, in what was a pretty messy race. He didn’t lose any ground when they quickened and he galloped to the line, so we were always hopeful that today’s trip wouldn’t be a problem.”
With True Story proving extremely disappointing, the most informative Derby pointer was probably provided by Peter Chapple-Hyam’s Arod, who might well have won had the race been half-a-furlong further.
Given that he was only making his third appearance at a racetrack, Arod is entitled to come on considerably for yesterday’s run, and he could make ante-post Derby odds of 16-1 look like an attractive each-way proposition come the start of next month.
“I was very pleased with that,” said Chapple-Hyam. “Jamie Spencer said he just got too far back, but today was about settling him. It was only the third run of his life and he needs to grow up more.
“Faster ground would definitely have suited him. It will be up to Sheikh Fahad, but I suppose we’ll go to Epsom.”
Whether True Story also lines up for the Classic remains to be seen, but he will have to improve markedly to feature in the battle for places.
“That was a little bit disappointing,” admitted his trainer, Saeed bin Suroor. “Kieren (Fallon) said he needs a mile-and-a-half and that on faster ground, he would be better. I think he will be fine for Epsom.”