Since the turn of the century, four horses 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.
As Andrew Asquith explains in his weekend column, 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.
So what is Too Darn Hot’s peak performance so far? He ran to 127 when completing a four-timer in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket (evens, beat Advertise by two and three quarter lengths, leading inside final the final furlong before forging clear, all this despite not settling fully in the early stages), building on previous victories at Sandown (twice, ratings of 96 and 117) and in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster (120).
🔥🔥Too Darn Hot sizzles for Frankie! They've won the Dewhurst in style! 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/7OpoVWSonY— ITV Racing (@itvracing) October 13, 2018
As a result, it’s no surprise that Too Darn Hot is well clear on ratings (he finished last season as Timeform’s highest rated juvenile since Frankel and Dream Ahead in 2010), and though he missed his intended return in the Greenham/Guineas after suffering a minor injury to a splint bone, the feeling is that perhaps too much has been made of the family’s fragility; after all, his dam only missed the Oaks due to a freak accident at home, while Lah Ti Dar only missed the Oaks after returning an unsatisfactory blood test.
A brother to C&D winner So Mi Dar and St Leger runner-up Lah Ti Dar, the one and a quarter-mile trip of the Dante should be well within reach, and he’s very much the one to beat.
Having said that, this looks the deepest renewal this century, with Japan, Line of Duty and Nayef Road having all run to a smart level of form already.
Aidan O’Brien mopped up every Derby trial last week, and Japan, a brother to Secret Gesture and Sir Isaac Newton, both of whom stayed this trip well, improved markedly with each start last season, culminating in a win in the Beresford Stakes at Naas. O’Brien tends to run his better two-year-olds in the Beresford – subsequent 2000 Guineas winner Saxon Warrior won in 2017 – a race he’s won 18 times since 1996. Given Japan’s pedigree, it says plenty about his ability that he reached a smart level of form as a juvenile.
Beresford Stakes winner Japan - next stop @DoncasterRaces? Aidan O'Brien: "He’s a big, hardy horse and could be the type for the [Group 1] Vertem Futurity Trophy."— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) October 1, 2018
“He travelled well and did everything right, so you’d have to be delighted with him really.” pic.twitter.com/slkbK4mZvj
Line of Duty went from strength to strength last season, winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs on his final start. Connections were keen to go up in trip with him this year, hence why he missed the 2000 Guineas, and he is another who can’t be discounted, also likely to improve further for this step up in trip. His dam was first past the post in the 1000 Guineas before losing it in the stewards’ room, and his own progression last season – gritty if unspectacular – suggests his own classic aspirations are very much in-tact.
Nayef Road’s career so far has a different feel to it. His progression has come in lesser events, making his way through handicaps (had plenty of racing as a two-year-old), and his five-length win from Fraser Island at Newmarket last time (from a BHA mark of 96, under a change of tactics/jockey) suggests he won’t be an easy horse to pass if again adopting front-running duties. Indeed, while many of the major players are ‘likely’ to improve for the step up to this trip, he has already proven that it suits, recording career-best efforts each time he has run over it.
Though he saddled Pisco Sour to be third in this race at 40/1 in 2011, it’s a long time since Hughie Morrison had a middle-distance prospect as promising as Telecaster, who finished runner-up to Bangkok on his debut at Doncaster (strong form) and looked something out of the ordinary when winning a minor event at Windsor by nine lengths last time. His closing sectionals were impressive that day and, though he will have to improve plenty, he has a lot of potential (has a ‘large P’).
One who has been the subject of support for both this race and the Derby in recent days is Surfman, who romped to success in a minor event at Newcastle on his return last month. He won with plenty in hand there, and the timefigure backs up the visual impression (won by 14 lengths), too, so he is another who can’t be ignored despite facing a much sterner examination here.
Almania and Turgenev complete the line-up. The first-named won a seven-furlong maiden on his final start last year and makes his seasonal reappearance at this lofty level – not a normal modus operandi for a yard that aren’t renowned for rushing horses up in grade. It perhaps speaks volumes about his ability and it will be interesting to see how he fares in the betting. Turgenev, in contrast, looks to have found his level, one that is significantly lower than this.
It’s hard to get away from the claims of Too Darn Hot who is bred to stay this longer trip and will likely take plenty of stopping at a track where his siblings excelled in the past. To boot, his injury scare means that he is 6/4 rather than odds-on, and it’s worth trusting that his trainer – who has won this race three times in the last four years – will have him spot-on for this return.
For one reason or another, this isn’t a race that Aidan O’Brien has dominated in recent seasons, and there might be some value to be had at around 20/1 with Nayef Road. Though both Surfman and Telecaster made most of the running when winning last time, both were against much more inferior opposition, and they may receive more circumspect rides now upped in grade. As a result, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Nayef Road get a relatively easy lead. Mark Johnston doesn’t run too many in the race, but saddled Mildenberger to finish runner-up 12 months ago and won it with Permian (at 10/1) in 2017, so a big run is expected from Nayef Road despite his less-than-conventional profile for the race.
Back Too Darn Hot to win Thursday’s Dante Stakes at 6/4