IT'S BACK! Put on a hat, don't forget your mobile phone, and grab yourself a racecard.

The Knavesmire is open for business again after a seven month winter break.

And even better news for local punters - there are now 18 days of Flat racing to look forward to this summer. One more than in the past.

As always, the Dante Festival - which starts today - brings the curtain up on the new season.

There are four Group Two contests to savour over the next three days - the Duke of York Clipper Logistic Stakes today, the Betfred Dante Stakes and Betfred Middleton Stakes on Thursday, and Friday's Betway Yorkshire Cup

Today also sees the running of the Tattersalls Musidora - a feature race for three year old fillies and a leading form indicator for the Investec Oaks.

Significantly, the threat of heavy rain currently looms large over the Knavesmire.

That spells bad news for lovers of dry ground and the likely withdrawal of some leading contenders.

North Yorkshire's leading trainer Richard Fahey doesn't mind if things do get a little wetter.

Fahey, who took the title of York's top trainer for the eighth time last season, has Growl in the Duke of York, Forest Ranger in the Dante, and Brian The Snail in the Listed British Stallions Studs. And that is naming just a few of his runners.

"The rain will have helped Growl. It will hinder others and help us," said Fahey. "And rain helped me to make the decision to declare Brian The Snail.

"I wouldn’t have wanted to run him over five furlongs on fast ground. The slower ground will help him."

Five-year-old Growl is one of 13 contenders in the richest ever renewal of the Duke Of York.

Disappointing on his last outing - the Hong Kong Sprint Cup five months ago - Growl had previously finished second in both the Ayr Gold Cup and the Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes at Ascot before winning a Listed race at Doncaster.

Brian The Snail, owned by Godolphin, is seeking to extend his three race unbeaten record in Thursday's five-furlong Listed race.

"We like him a lot and it’s another stepping stone for him. The next level," said Fahey. "He won a handicap at Pontefract last month, carrying a big weight, and did it well."

Forest Ranger, meanwhile, faces a step up in both grade and distance in the Dante Stakes having won two of his first three races.

"It has been the plan, all year, for Forest Ranger to go to the Dante," said Fahey. "But it’s a fantastic Dante this year if they all turn up; extremely competitive.

"We’ve got a small outside chance," he added. "But I’m a fraction worried about the trip because he’s a horse with plenty of pace."

Newmarket-based trainer John Gosden has revealed that Shutter Speed's participation in the Tattersalls Musidora Stakes is far from certain due to the weather

The filly is unbeaten in two starts and an odds-on favourite to win her first Group race but Gosden said: "We'll send her up there - and the intention is to run - but we'll have a good look at the ground before racing. She's not bred for soft ground but, hopefully, she can run as if she doesn't run at York there is nowhere else to go."

The going had eased on Tuesday morning to 'good, good to soft in places' after more rain fell on the track between Sunday morning and Monday than during the whole of April.

Prize money over the three days of the festival has risen for the sixth year in succession, increasing by £45,000 this year to £1.2m, with all four of the Group Two contests receiving a boost of £5,000 and every race worth £20,000 or more.

The festival is being broadcast on ITV4 and around 35,000 people are expected through the gates over the next three days.