York Ebor Festival Tips: Tom Collins is on the hunt for more winners with his Friday and Saturday plays

24 August 2023

We got off the mark early at York thanks to Designer’s success in the five-furlong sprint on Wednesday, so the balance is looking healthy as we enter the back-end of the meeting. I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t always mutter that phrase when it comes to the Ebor Festival!

Let’s get straight into the final two days of action then shall we? The Group 1 Coolmore Wootton Bassett Nunthorpe Stakes (3.35 York) is the featured race on Friday and it will see the return to the Knavesmire for last year’s winner Highfield Princess, who deserves short-priced favouritism.

This mare has been wonderful throughout her career. Not only has she competed at the top level and plundered an array of Group 1, Group 2, Listed and handicap contests, but she has proved almost bombproof when it comes to consistency. There is no finer example of that than her finishing second (King’s Stand) and third (Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee) in two races spread over just four days at Royal Ascot earlier this season.

Highfield Princess then returned to the track for the King George Qatar Stakes at Glorious Goodwood and demolished her 10 rivals for an emphatic three-length score at prohibitive odds. Her recent form alone makes her the clear standout in what otherwise appears a sub-par edition of York’s famous sprint.

There are only two other Group 1 winners in the line-up - Bradsell and Khaadem. But the former needs to prove he is capable of doing it away from Ascot, while the latter has been reportedly hard-trained to race over six furlongs this year and may lack the speed now that he’s dropped back to the minimum distance.

Big Evs is an interesting runner and cannot be overlooked - a two-year-old is always a talking horse in this race. However, the likes of Acapulco and The Platinum Queen have tried and failed as juveniles and the drought has now stretched to 16 years without a two-year-old success. Couple that with the fact he’s now racing hardened and more talented sprinters and I can’t bring myself to back him, even in receipt of a load of weight.

All-in-all, Highfield Princess ticks far more boxes than her counterparts and another typically solid performance would make her very hard to beat. 

The only other horse I will be backing on Friday is English Oak, who is a fair price at 9/2 in the Mile Handicap (5.15 York) that ends the card. 

Trainer Ed Walker has always held this three-year-old in the highest regard and he showed nice progression after looking green and inexperienced on debut to beat a consistent 78-rated performer at Thirsk on his second outing.

English Oak then ran in one of the hottest August novice events I’ve seen this year. The race was won by John and Thady Gosden’s Jeff Koons, who will have a big future over middle distances, with subsequent winner Elnajmm crossing the line in second for William Haggas. English Oak was next home, and he perhaps overperformed to get so close.

He now goes handicapping off a mark of 90, but I’m adamant that he’s more talented than that. The trip and track should suit and he’s improving at a rate of knots, so I’ll put a circle around him over the Shadwell-owned pair he faces.

Onto Saturday now and the 1m6f Ebor Handicap (3.35 York). A £500,000 prize pot is up for grabs in this premium staying contest and it’s unsurprisingly attracted a very strong field, which is headed by Sweet William.

I have no doubts that he deserves his place as favourite, but I do have serious question marks about his weak mental fortitude given there will be a big crowd and he will be in tight in a large group of horses from the outset. He’s extremely highly strung - something you usually say about a sprinter not a stayer - and it feels like he is constantly on the edge of completely losing his mettle. 

He has the talent to win, but I don’t trust him at a short price in a race like this and therefore I have to look elsewhere. The obvious landing points are Real Dream, Absurde or Jackfinbar given their trainers, but I’ve gone a little outside the box with a horse who I think will continue to make his mark at higher levels after this.

Yashin came from nearly last to first to win the Saval Beg two starts back. That was not only impressive because of the speed-favouring track, but it’s also a piece of form that has worked out nicely with Dawn Rising and Okita Soushi subsequently winning at Royal Ascot and Emily Dickinson plundering the Curragh Cup.

Yashin is a proper Group horse on that evidence, and I’m more than willing to put a big, bold line through his latest effort as he needs good ground and it was soft underfoot. He’s had a month off and will be fresh and ready for the Ebor - an angle I love at this time of year - and this long and galloping homestraight should really play to his advantage.

Finally, I’m going to take on the battle-hardened Alabama and Purosangue in the Listed Julia Graves Roses Stakes (4.45 York) on Saturday in favour of backing course winner Mon Na Slieve for Kevin Ryan.

This £190,000 Breeze-Up purchase made a sharp debut at this track when he accounted for subsequent Listed winner Kyllian, yet he seems to be overlooked following a pretty admirable display when eighth in the Norfolk at Royal Ascot last time out.

All the action took place over the far-side, but he raced stands’ side with no cover and still finished second in his group. It was a good display given the task he faced and I’m certainly inclined to give him another chance.

Ryan always seems to run his best horses at this venue, so the return to York gives off the right signals, and Mon Na Slieve is open to more improvement than many of his exposed and maybe over-the-top rivals.

York Ebor Festival Tips

Highfield Princess (3.35 York, Friday) @ 6/4
English Oak (5.15 York, Friday) @ 9/2
Yashin (3.35 York, Saturday) @ 18/1
Mon Na Slieve (4.45 York, Saturday) @ SP

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