On what can only be described as a low-key weekend of racing in the UK and Ireland, Saturday’s card at York takes pole position. Simon Rowlands will preview the big handicap sprint on Thursday, so this preview will tackle the opening Queen Mother’s Cup at 13:50 – a race in which the winning rider also receives their weight in champagne – in preference to the Grand Cup, a contest dominated in the betting by Sir Michael Stoute’s improving stayer Mekong.
The Queen Mother’s Cup is an 11.5-furlong handicap restricted to lady amateur riders and has rarely left the North. Indeed, the 2010 winner Desert Recluse, trained by Pat Eddery and the most recent three-year-old to win the race, was the last to accompany the prize south on the A64 out of York.
The race has also been something of a family affair, with last year’s winning father/daughter combination of Michael and Sophie Dods the latest in a long line of emotional victories that also includes a win for Tim Easterby and daughter Emily in 2016, while the 2017 renewal was won by Mick Easterby’s granddaughters, the cousins Jacqueline Coward and Joanna Mason. Coward had already won the race twice for Tim Easterby, with Crackentorp in both 2012 and 2013.
It may seem frivolous, but Dods Snr described last year’s win as “right up there, it means as much as winning the Nunthorpe”, and it makes sense to begin this preview by looking at this angle.
Possible mounts for the Easterby clan include Kilowatt, who shaped better than the bare result on heavy going at Ripon last time and given how some of his form has worked out he’s well worth a second look here now back on better ground. Multellie is another who gave more encouragement last time than the finishing position suggests, but he’s yet to shine on the Knavesmire, while the 2016 winner Snoano, who went on to win the Wolferton Stakes at Royal Ascot on his next start, raced in the colours of Martyn MacLeod also sported by course winner Appointed. That win, achieved back in July 2017, was the last time Appointed tasted success, but he’s respected after a fair fourth to Makawee over C&D last month.
Of more interest is the Mick Easterby-trained Where’s Jeff, a fairly useful handicapper who won over a mile at Newcastle and Hamilton in 2018, but seemed to appreciate the step up in trip when getting back on the up at Beverley last time (won by two and a half lengths from Sands Chorus, staying on well). He faces a different test here, with no uphill finish, but shapes as if the further step up in distance will suit and a 3 lb rise could prove very lenient. He looks worth an interest at 14/1, more so than his longer-priced former stablemate Tapis Libre, who made the frame in this race either side of winning it in 2017, but has looked as if age has caught up with him in three starts this season.
Sticking with the theme of families, it’s again worth taking note of Dods’ post-race comments from 12 months ago, in which he said "I had another one for this race that her [Sophie's] twin sister Chloe was going to ride but the ground was too fast.”
Chloe, who can claim six pounds here, is provisionally booked to ride Billy No Mates, a lightly-raced three-year-old who won at Ayr and Thirsk last season, and was a respectable fifth to Forest of Dean in a 1¼m handicap at Doncaster last time, slowly away but keeping on well late on as her pedigree (out of a 1¾m-17f winner, who was a half-sister to a winner up to 2m Romantic Affair and 1½m-1¾m winner Gulf) suggested she would. This extra distance will suit and she’s another worth backing, at 20/1. Sophie is jocked up on Archi’s Affaire, who matched the form of his Hamilton win when a creditable third at Haydock when last seen in September.
Others to note include Charles Kingsley, a progressive handicapper from the Mark Johnston yard who has been kept very busy of late (to good effect), and Ship of the Fen, an impressive winner over 1¾m at Salisbury on his reappearance/stable debut last month.
The aforementioned Makawee, a very progressive individual who has followed up his win here with success at Wetherby since, and Arctic Fox, who tops Timeform weight-adjusted ratings after his own win over 1¼m here last month, both have better form and are respected, but this race, much like the best thrillers, has always been more about the plot than the job. Where’s Jeff and, in particular Billy No Mates, certainly look to fit that criteria and are worth backing at double-figure prices as a result.
Back Where’s Jeff to win the Queen Mother’s Cup at 14/1
Back Billy No Mates to win the Queen Mother’s Cup at 20/1