The Dante Stakes, which takes place at York this coming week, is widely seen as the most prestigious Derby trial of them all, often attracting a much superior field than the other trials in both England and Ireland. Since the turn of the century, there have been four horses who have completed the Dante/Derby double, namely North Light (2004), Motivator (2005), Authorized (2007) and Golden Horn (2015). Also, Workforce, who finished runner-up to Cape Blanco in the 2010 renewal, went on to win the Derby on his next start, breaking the track record at Epsom in the process, giving the Dante even more credibility when being discussed as the strongest Derby trial of them all.
The average Timeform Performance Rating (TPR) of the winner of the Dante Stakes is 117, but all four of the horses who won the Dante before going on to success at Epsom achieved higher than average TPRs.
Motivator’s figure of 119 was the lowest of the quartet, whereas Golden Horn attained the highest with a TPR of 124. What is interesting, however, is that Motivator improved significantly on his next start in the Derby, running to a TPR of 131, while Golden Horn didn’t have to progress as much to reach his figure of 130.
“Motivator overcame pre-race exuberance to trounce his rivals in breathtaking style, treating them in a manner rarely seen in any good classic field, let alone one for the Derby.”
Above is an extract from the Timeform report after Motivator’s Derby win, where he beat the now sought-after National Hunt sire Walk In The Park by five lengths. Motivator never reached his full potential, though, with his exuberance – in both the preliminaries and the races themselves – often getting the better of him thereafter. He was unable to get his head in front again during his short career, but still ran with plenty of credit in three prestigious Group 1s on his remaining three starts, before being retired after suffering an injury on the gallops.
“Golden Horn maintained his unbeaten record with a performance right out of the top drawer on just his fourth start, showing at the highest level the turn of foot that characterised his earlier successes and over a two furlong longer trip, his rider doing really well in the early stages to get him to settle after he'd been keen from the stalls.”
Will we see another Golden Horn emerge at York today? The brilliant 2015 Investec Derby winner lifted the #DanteStakes on his way to sealing his greatness here at Epsom #ThrowbackThursday #TBT pic.twitter.com/OoCyyDoVro— EpsomDownsRacecourse (@EpsomRacecourse) May 17, 2018
As you can surmise from the Timeform report after Golden Horn’s Derby win, he was comfortably the best middle-distance performer of his generation and went on to prove himself against his elders later in the season, too, winning three more times at the highest level in the Coral Eclipse, Irish Champion Stakes and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Admittedly, he met with a shock defeat back at York in the Juddmonte International, and also got turned over at odds-on when beaten half a length in second by Found on his final start in the Breeders' Cup Turf, but there’s no denying that Golden Horn was one of the best Derby winners in recent times.
This year’s Dante Stakes has a rather different make-up, with Too Darn Hot set to be the highest rated horse – on Timeform’s scale – to run in the race in recent memory. Crowned Timeform’s highest rated juvenile since Frankel and Dream Ahead in 2010, Too Darn Hot has already run to a level of form good enough to win an average renewal of the Derby, and will rightly be a short-priced favourite if taking his chance on Thursday. His TPR of 127 in the Dewhurst at Newmarket on his final start was the best performance in the race since Frankel in 2010 and, though seemingly more precocious than his siblings – So Mi Dar and Lah Ti Dar – his pedigree suggests that he should have more to offer over middle distances this season.
Trainer John Gosden has always held the opinion that he possesses much more speed than his siblings, though, and this is something that is backed up by the Timeform report on his Dewhurst success.
“There is a doubt as to whether beyond the Guineas he'll develop into a Derby horse, admittedly from a family of middle-distance performers but clearly a fast colt, not the biggest either, and he's already breaking the family mould by showing such speed and precocity; whatever his optimum trip proves to be, though, he has vast talent and is a fantastically exciting prospect.”
🔥🔥Too Darn Hot sizzles for Frankie! They've won the Dewhurst in style! 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/7OpoVWSonY— ITV Racing (@itvracing) October 13, 2018
For all that the Derby raises a different type of question over a trip two furlongs longer than the Dante, you would hope that Too Darn Hot would be able to stay a mile and a quarter, especially when you consider that he briefly looked in trouble in the Dewhurst – he hit 8.0 in-running on Betfair entering the Dip – before staying on strongly for a comfortable success.
It’s also worth remembering that So Mi Dar put up her most impressive performance when winning the Musidora Stakes (over the same C&D as the Dante), and Lah Ti Dar did similarly when turning a listed event, also at York, over a mile and a half into a procession on her return from a setback that ruled her out of the Oaks.
Gosden rarely makes mistakes when it comes to what trip a horse needs – Calyx is a perfect recent example – and, if Too Darn Hot turns up on the Knavesmire this week in preference of the Irish 2000 Guineas at the end of the month, then who are we to argue, with Gosden knowing exactly what it takes to win the Dante (won three of the last four renewals, including with Golden Horn).
Following Sir Dragonet’s faultless display in the Chester Vase on Wednesday – which propelled him into joint favouritism for the Derby along with Too Darn Hot – trainer Aidan O’Brien suggested that his stablemate Japan could head for the Dante Stakes, too. A well-related colt, he managed to win twice last season, notably taking the Beresford Stakes on his final start, a race that O’Brien likes to target with one of his better two-year-olds, resulting in eight successive wins since 2011. Japan’s pedigree points to him improving for middle distances this season, too, and the strongest indication that he will head to York came when he wasn’t declared for his other option of the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown on Sunday – he adds further interest to what promises to be a fascinating renewal.
Godolphin haven’t tasted success in the Dante since Moon Ballad and Jamie Spencer won the 2002 renewal, but Charlie Appleby has been quite vocal about the regard in which he holds Line of Duty, and that speaks volumes given that he won the Derby with Masar last season. Line of Duty did nothing but progress as a juvenile, his season culminating with a success in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs. He reached a similar level of form as a two-year-old as Masar did, so it’s understandable that connections hold high hopes for him this season. However, one niggling doubt is that Line of Duty is out of the 1000 Guineas winner Jacqueline Quest (who later became ungenuine), and both of his siblings were just useful at best, neither of them getting any better with age.
It is already shaping up to be another fascinating renewal of the Derby in June, and with two of the leading fancies – according to the ante-post betting market – set to take their chance in the Dante, it will be interesting to see if the race proves the perfect springboard to Epsom once more.