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No need to wait for the Ascot fireworks - this is a right royal day of racing

Just because Royal Ascot starts in 72 hours, that is no reason to take things easy this Saturday afternoon.

Nor is it an excuse to head for the shops to grab a last minute cravat or fascinator – think of what you could be missing.

This is invariably one of the most competitive days racing of the UK summer and backing a couple of the right horses could pay for a whole new outfit.

York's Pavers Foundation Catherine Memorial Sprint Handicap (3.35) has had winners at 20-1 and 25-1 in the last five years and the wide-open betting suggests solving this 22-runner puzzle will be just as rewarding this time.

Remembering that six of the last nine winners were trained in Yorkshire and six of the last ten were drawn five or lower does reduce the field to a more manageable three – Blown By Wind, Secret Venture and Yousini.

But there's quality to go with the quantity as 331 horses go to post in 28 races at the four Flat afternoon meetings in Britain.

This was the day in 2017 that top sprinter Battaash first hinted at his class with victory in the Listed Scurry Stakes at Sandown and the fact that the top four in that event all hold Group race entries suggest that race is well up to scratch this year.

Williams prospecting for Gold at York

At a track that neighbours a former chocolate factory, Willie Wonka’s final golden ticket will be won on Saturday afternoon.

As its name rather suggests, York's Sky Bet Race To The Ebor Grand Cup Stakes (3.00) is the last chance for a horse to grab a guaranteed place in the first £1million Sky Bet Ebor in August.

News of the riches on offer clearly reached the Far East as three-time Hong Kong winner Gold Mount has come across to join Ian Williams and bid for a lucrative place in the field.

It’s actually a welcome back home as he was a smart three-year-old on these shores in 2016, landing the King George V Handicap at Royal Ascot for Alan King when he was known as Primitivo.

But the Asian horse with the British name may find it tough to cope with the British horse with an Asian name – Mekong looked a surefire future Listed winner when chasing Gold Cup hope Dee Ex Bee home in Group 3 company at Sandown.

Dan out to dazzle again

Time for a quiz. Which of the three Newmarket trainers with a major chance in the £100,000 feature at York has won the 1,000 Guineas?

Pam Sly is the one who has succeeded where William Haggas and Roger Varian have failed and she rates Dazzling Dan her best horse since Classic heroine Speciosa.

The progressive three-year-old looked potentially smart when he landed a £50,000 race on his home course last month and ought to go very well in the Pavers Foundation Catherine Memorial Sprint Handicap (3.35) off a mark just 4lb higher.

That must make it galling for part-owner Dr Tom Davies, a lucky man who also had a share in Speciosa, to be forced to miss today’s race as he is apparently attending his own retirement party.

Then again, what could make a farewell bash go with more of a swing than watching on television as your promising sprinter lands a race that's thrown up Group 1 stars Cadeaux Genereux, Sheikh Albadou and Twilight Son in the past.

The Cup that fizzes

Who cares about Royal Ascot when you can have your body weight in champagne?

That's what's on offer to the winner of the Queen Mother's Cup (1.50), which is Europe's richest women amateurs' race and allows the winner to sit on an old-fashioned scale until the other side is laden with enough Pol Roger to reach a balance.

The Princess Royal and ITV's Francesca Cumani are among those to have earned champers for a year – or a very hectic month – and local solicitor Serena Brotherton, who came within a neck of a fourth victory last year, is on recent Beverley winner Where’s Jeff.

But the most astonishing woman in the saddle will be Lady Halifax, the 69-year-old Countess who will take part in the Ernest Cooper Macmillan 'Ride of their Lives' in front of her husband, three children and seven grandchildren.

She's ridden since she was a child but says her decision to take up race-riding for charity at an age when even Sir Lester Piggott had been retired for ten years was 'completely mad' and Richard Fahey, with whom she has been riding out, 'thought she was bonkers'.

Lady Halifax takes up York charity race challenge at the age of 69

That means she will probably the most keenly watched Lady taking to the saddle since Godiva made her naturist tax protest in the 11th century.

Kaeso out to book Hunt Cup spot

This afternoon could prove most important to prolific handicapper Kaeso, who makes a short down the A64 from Nigel Tinkler's Malton yard in an attempt to clinch a place in Wednesday's Royal Hunt Cup.

Scoring a seventh win in little over two years at Chester last month was not enough to guarantee a return to Ascot for the Victoria Cup third and the 3lb penalty he would pick up by landing the JCB Handicap at York (2.25) could make all the difference.

Kaeso needs Saturday York win to boost chance of sealing Royal Hunt Cup slot 

Yorkshire pair earmarked for southern prizes

David O'Meara goes back to where it all began with hopes of a feature race double on Saturday afternoon.

It was at Sandown that he first announced himself a trainer to be taken seriously at a high level, bringing Blue Bajan down to land the Henry II Stakes and taking the bet365 Mile at the same Group 2 level with Penitent.

Like that pair, Randox Health Handicap (3.15) hope Baltic Baron is a cast-off from elsewhere and his recent second at Nottingham suggests he has been similarly rejuvenated by a move to the North Yorkshire alchemist.

Improving three-year-old stablemate Leodis Dream will benefit from reverting to his own age group in the Randox Health Scurry Stakes (2.05).

He lost his chance at the start when up against older rivals at York last time and could well resume the progress that had seen him win each of his five previous starts.

Franny Norton the man for all weathers at Chester

Self-styled 'Summer Saturday' at Chester may not quite match the spirit of the season – torrential rain has forced the closure of the open course enclosure and car park.

But Franny Norton can be relied on around the Roodee whatever the weather.

He defied driving rain to win a muddy Chester Cup for Mark Johnston on Making Miracles last month and he could again be the one for ITV4 viewers to follow five weeks on as he rides stablemate Gravistas, who warmed up for the feature Whitley Neill Handcraft Gin Handicap (2.40) with success at Newmarket last Saturday.

 

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