MIDDLEHAM trainer Mark Johnston has hailed York Racecourse’s Betfred Dante Stakes as “the leading Derby trial” as he prepares a two-pronged assault on the mile-and-a-quarter showpiece next month.
Johnston, who fired out 216 winners from his Kingsley Park base last year, has entered Hartnell, pictured above right, and Somewhat for the £150,000 Group 2 contest on Thursday, May 15.
Libertarian, who won the race for Leyburn’s Elaine Burke last year, went on to finish second to Ruler Of The World in the Epsom Classic and Johnston said of the Dante: “I think it is the leading Derby trial. There are easier options but if you feel brave enough, then I am sure the Dante would be the nicest of the Derby trials to win.
“Hartnell and Somewhat are very well. I couldn’t say, for sure, which one was more likely to run in the Dante. We will be keeping the options open. They will have a few other entries, but the Dante is a serious consideration for one or both.”
The pair are among 73 entries with Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle juggernaut responsible for 15 of them.
Australia, the current Derby favourite, heads his imposing list.
Johnston’s duo are far from out of place, however, having shown high-class form as two-year-olds - particularly Hartnell’s third in last November’s November’s Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud in Paris.
Johnston added: “The French race was a mile and a quarter, but there is absolutely no doubt that he will be better over further.
“And I think there is no doubt he will be better in time.”
Somewhat, meanwhile, twice came second in Group 2 company before weakening into a well-beaten ninth behind Kingston Hill in the Racing Post Trophy.
Said Johnston: “He did look to run a bit too free and basically did not get home.
“So that would be why I harbour some doubts about whether he will stay as far as his pedigree suggests.”
North Yorkshire could have another representative in The Grey Gatsby.
The son of Mastercraftsman, trained at Hambleton by Kevin Ryan, was a close second in the Acomb Stakes at the Ebor Festival.
He then occupied the same position in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster.
A heartened Ryan was full of praise for the confition of the Grey Gatsby.
“He is a lovely horse to have,” said the trainer.
“He has grown, got stronger and improved.
“He will have two entries (at the Craven meeting) at Newmarket – one in the Craven, the other in the nine-furlong Feilden Stakes.
“That will determine whether he’ll go for a Guineas or wait and go for the Dante.”