Win, lose or draw in the Sky Bet Ebor Handicap at York on Saturday, Ed Dunlop has confirmed that one-time Derby hope John Leeper will race again next season.
The four-year-old won two of his first three career starts and was an 8/1 chance for last year’s Epsom Classic, but finished down the field behind Adayar.
While he has failed to win in nine subsequent starts, the Newmarket handler has not lost faith in this son of Frankel, who is named after his late father, Classic-winning trainer John Leeper Dunlop.
Though admitting he has been “frustrating”, Dunlop is adamant his staying-on run behind subsequent Group One scorer Rebel’s Romance in the mile-and-a-half Queen’s Plate at Goodwood was the ideal prep for the richest handicap in Europe.
John Leeper, who will be ridden by Adam Kirby, will shoulder 9st 9lb in a race where three of the last four winners successfully carried over 9st 5lb to victory.
Dunlop said: “Goodwood was very much a prep race. It was an inadequate trip and they went slowly and quickened. He is a huge horse and we wanted to give him a run in preparation for the Ebor.
Image: Adam Kirby takes the ride on John Leeper for Ed Dunlop
“All systems have been pointed to this for a while. He is a bit of a frustration, but he is still very talented and he is in very good form, and we were pleased with his last piece of work.
“Touch wood, he will go well, but it is very competitive and there are a lot of runners. We need some luck. The plan is for him to race on next year, though.”
Three of the top five in the market hail from Ireland, with Paddy Twomey’s Earl Of Tyrone heading most lists following a clear-cut victory in an extended mile-and-a-half Listed race at Limerick. That form was franked when the runner-up scored in a Group Three next time.
Image: Earl Of Tyrone and Billy Lee win at the Curragh in an Ebor qualifier
The Joseph O’Brien-trained Okita Soushi, who was third in the Copper Horse Stakes at Royal Ascot, is another leading contender despite a wide draw in stall 22, along with Jessica Harrington’s Ever Present, who has a more favourable position in six.
The six-year-old made a good impression when taking a valuable big-field handicap at Leopardstown in September, and when making a comeback after 314 days on the sidelines in defeat at Down Royal last month.
Harrington said: “This race has been the plan for a long time and we hope it will go according to plan. We were happy enough with his comeback run at Down Royal. He is in good form and that run will have blown any cobwebs away.”
The home challenge is led by William Haggas’ pair of Gaassee and Candleford. The former tries the trip for the first time, while Tom Marquand sticks with the latter, who scored in the Duke of Edinburgh at the Royal meeting.
Frankie Dettori teams up with the John and Thady Gosden-trained Trawlerman in the Godolphin blue. The addition of a hood helped him win over a similar distance at Goodwood and while he retains the headgear, connections are mindful of an awkward draw.
Thady Gosden said: “He ran at Goodwood with the hood on last time and he got a nice ride from Benoit (De La Sayette). He won well enough. His two starts in between that and his win at the start of the year did not quite go according to plan and he is a horse who obviously stays the trip. He just over-travelled a bit, hence the hood, which helped him settle.
“He has been well since and obviously we are drawn 20, which is not ideal. But you can only play the hand you are dealt and we will come up with a plan.”
Image: Trawlerman gets to the front in the Summer Handicap at Goodwood
Jim Goldie is heading to the Knavesmire in confident mood with Euchen Glen, who is berthed in stall two. Paul Mulrennan rides the hard-knocking handicapper, who bids to become the first nine-year-old to land the prize since Sea Pigeon in 1979.
Goldie said: “He has been a consistent horse. Hopefully he will be very consistent on Saturday. It is an interesting race with a lot of interesting horses in it. He has been in quite good form and it is a track he has performed well at before, so we are hopeful.”
Richard Hughes may never have won the race as a jockey, yet would be confident of bagging the prize as a trainer, should it rain heavily at York before now and 3.35pm on Saturday. He saddles Calling The Wind, who was placed in both the Cesarewitch and the November Handicap last year and was a fair third to Coltrane in the Esher Stakes at Sandown on his previous run.
“You had better do a rain dance – I need rain,” said Hughes. “I really do. If we get it, we’ll be going, but if we don’t we probably won’t run. But he is in great form and if it went soft, he would have a huge chance. If it is good to firm, I won’t run.”
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