Passenger out to book Derby ticket in Dante

By Sports Desk May 17, 2023

Impressive Wood Ditton scorer Passenger is entrusted with upholding Sir Michael Stoute’s fine record in the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai Dante Stakes at York.

Stoute has won the premier Betfred Derby trial seven times throughout his illustrious career and last year sent out Desert Crown to triumph on the Knavesmire before subsequently marching on to Epsom glory.

Now it is the turn of Passenger to stake his Classic claims, and having seen the rain scupper his intended outing at Chester last week, the Ulysses colt was supplemented into this Group Two event at a cost of £14,000.

“Passenger was a non-runner at Chester because of soft ground, but should have the perfect ground for him in the Dante,” said Alan Cooper, racing manager for owner the Niarchos family.

“It will be a big step up from the Wood Ditton, with the Dante being just his second start, and we will learn a bit more about him for the experience.

“It’s a stepping stone and we’ll see how he takes it, and Sir Michael will then make a plan afterwards. The hope is he is confirms the potential of the Wood Ditton and we can take it from there.”

John Gosden has won this three times in the past 10 years – including with Epsom hero Golden Horn – and alongside son Thady, will put Epictetus’ Derby credentials to the test following his success in the Blue Riband Trial last month.

“He won over a mile and a quarter in the Blue Riband on his last start and he steps up in trip this time. Hopefully the track and trip will suit him,” said Thady Gosden.

“He’s come out of Epsom really well and fingers crossed he will run a nice race again.”

James Ferguson’s Canberra Legend also has a victory in a key trial to his name, having taken the Feilden Stakes in fine style and the Kremlin Cottage handler is hoping this will give an indication as to how high he should aim the unbeaten son of Australia.

“He was impressive enough in the Feilden and has done everything right so far. He’s ticked all the boxes and his last piece of work was exactly what we wanted,” said Ferguson.

“We’re going there full of confidence, but with the understanding that it is another massive step up. It’s one of the top Derby trials and we’re up against some very good horses.

“Winning a Feilden at Newmarket gives us the confidence we have a good horse on our hands and this is about finding out about how good if everything goes right – whether it is Epsom, Ascot or France.”

Another heading to the Knavesmire with a perfect record is Aidan’s O’Brien’s Continuous, who won a Group Three in France on his final start at two and will bid to give his handler a fifth Dante as he reappears in the hands of Ryan Moore.

“This looks the most significant Derby trial so far in terms of depth,” Moore told Betfair.

“You can obviously make a case for a few given their unexposed profiles and I suppose none more so than Passenger, who impressed me when winning the Wood Ditton and comes here after being taken out of the Dee Stakes last week because of the ground.

“My colt Continuous is also unbeaten, as is the Feilden winner Canberra Legend, and he comes here in good shape, having showed a lot of ability and a very willing attitude when winning both of his races at two.

“He wouldn’t have the stamina-laden pedigree of some, but the way he won his Group Three in France over a mile in testing ground suggests this trip is well worth trying. I think he is decent, but we shall see. Ideally, he would prefer a bit of dig but good ground on a flat track like York should be fine.”

John Murphy’s Ballysax scorer White Birch is another making the trip from Ireland, having seen his Leopardstown form upheld by the runner-up at the Dublin track recently.

“He’s in super form. We couldn’t be happier with him and we’re looking forward to it,” said George Murphy, assistant to his father.

“This is a bigger test again and it will be good to see what White Birch can now do. It looks a very hot race on paper and everyone is going there thinking they have the winner. Hopefully he is good enough, but he is in good shape and we think he will run a big race.”

Charlie Appleby won the Dante with Hurricane Lane in 2021 and having seen Military Order fly to the top of the Derby betting when scoring at Lingfield on Saturday, now looks to add a second string to his Epsom bow with Flying Honours, who ended a fine juvenile campaign by winning the Zetland Stakes in October.

“Flying Honours was meant to run at Sandown last month, but the meeting was abandoned, so we took him for a racecourse gallop at Newmarket instead,” the Moulton Paddocks handler told

“We were very pleased with how that went and he goes into this in great order.

“We know that he gets this trip, having won the Zetland on his final two-year-old start, and feel that he has the scope to improve again as we step him up over further. It looks a competitive renewal of the Dante and whoever wins will be a leading player for the Derby.”

Andrew Balding’s The Foxes accounted for Flying Honours when claiming the Royal Lodge at two and made an encouraging return when second in the Craven Stakes last month. The Churchill colt could be suited by the step up to 10 furlongs, as could Roger Teal’s consistent Dancing Magic, who was a place behind in third at Newmarket.

A mile and a quarter could also play to the strengths of the King Of Steel, who created a taking impression on debut at Nottingham last year and was then been deemed good enough to take his chance in a Doncaster Group One shortly after.

He has since joined Roger Varian ahead of his Classic season and the Carlburg Stables handler believes he is giving all the right signals in his work at home.

He said. “He was impressive on his first start last year then he ran in the Group One at Doncaster.

“He has trained like a good horse all spring and we’re looking forward to running him.

“He’s a big horse but light on his feet and we’ll see how he measures up in the Dante, which will give us some direction whether he is an Epsom horse or a horse for one of those races at Royal Ascot.”

Burradon Stakes scorer Dear My Friend and Feilden third Killybegs Warrior both represent Charlie Johnston, while Karl Burke’s Liberty Lane completes the line-up, having chased home Waipiro at Newmarket.

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