Dante Stakes Preview: Highest Ground looks in peak form

Highest Ground was an impressive winner at Haydock last month.
Highest Ground was an impressive winner at Haydock last month.

Nick Seddon previews a unique renewal of the Dante Stakes at York, which will take place after this year's Epsom Derby, rather than act as a key trial...

The latest quirk of the current pandemic from a racing perspective is the swift revival of the Dante Stakes, which was originally lost in May during the suspension of racing, but has been rescheduled and repurposed to operate as a standalone Group 2 contest for the classic generation - rather than act as a key trial for last Saturday's Derby at Epsom. 

It's a rather intriguing switch of roles with the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, which traditionally acts as a 'consolation' for the colts who fail to achieve classic glory at Epsom - though due to its proximity to the Derby, it is no surprise that none of the 16 runners from Saturday take their chance here.

We do have an interesting field of six, however, which includes the Derrinstown Derby Trial winner Cormorant. He's the sole runner from the Aidan O'Brien operation in the field, and arrives here having upset a quintet at Leopardstown which included Russian Emperor with a game pillar-to-post success.

The bare form of that run looks useful, particularly when you bear in mind that the aforementioned runner-up has since won the Hampton Court Stakes at the Royal meeting, and he would be dangerous if allowed a similarly easy time of things from the front. 

However, the stand out in the field is undoubtedly the unbeaten Frankel colt Highest Ground, who represents Sir Michael Stoute. He's bred in the purple, and has yet to put a hoof wrong in two starts to date, looking an above average colt when recovering from totally fluffing the start to make a winning debut in good style at Leicester last September.

He impressed again when winning smoothly on reappearance over ten and a half furlongs at Haydock last month, defeating another well-regarded type in Waldkonig in the process. The bare form of that run looks smart, and it earned him serious quotes for the Derby, but Stoute has been careful not to rush his colt, stressing after his Haydock run that the undulations of Epsom could well have come too soon after just two starts. He looks an exciting prospect nonetheless, and that patience could well pay off in some of the top middle distance races later in the season. 

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Another to consider is the useful-looking Thunderous, who represents the Mark Johnston team. He was a perfect three-from-three over seven furlongs as a juvenile last term, signing off with victory in the listed Denford Stakes at York that August, but was beaten fairly comfortably into second on reappearance at listed level over this trip at Newbury last month. He will need more if he is to bounce back here, but will at least strip fitter for that outing, and represents a yard which won this as recently as 2017 with Permian. 

One colt with some Group 1 form already under his belt is Juan Elcano, who was an excellent fifth in last month's 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. That effort looks excellent bearing in mind who finished in front of him, though he failed to convince with his stamina when fourth behind Russian Emperor over this trip in the Hampton Court Stakes last time out. He would be a threat if building on that here, but has something to prove as a consequence. 

The field of six is completed by Encipher and the unbeaten colt Al Madhar. The latter ran just once last season, winning a seven furlong maiden at Newmarket, but that form has proven strong, with several subsequent winners in behind. He took the step up to this trip in his stride when making a winning return at Newbury last month, and although this is a big step up in class, he's bred to improve yet and can't be discounted. Encipher was a neck behind Al Madhar last time out, and while he too is open to more improvement yet, a confident vote goes the way of Highest Ground. 


Dante Stakes, Thursday 9th July - back Highest Ground at 4/5

Dante Stakes
Highest Ground silk

Highest Ground

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