08/13/2010 2:28PM

Plenty of action at four-day York meet


NEW YORK – Dick Turpin returns to York Racecourse on Tuesday, 271 years after his last appearance on the infield gallows. The current occasion for the Thoroughbred Dick Turpin will be the prestigious Juddmonte International Stakes. It was his human namesake who suffered the ultimate indignity of a public hanging at York on April 7, 1739, when he was strung up for the then unforgiveable crime of horse theft.

Will the spirit of the thieving, murderous Dick Turpin be present Tuesday to spur on the chances of the equine Dick Turpin? The 18th century Turpin was an expert horseman himself. Legend has it that he once made the 200-mile journey from London to York in a single night aboard a stouthearted mare named Black Bess. The contemporary Dick Turpin will only have to traverse 1 1/4 miles, 88 yards in the Juddmonte, with Richard Hughes in the saddle.

Public hangings were conducted on the York infield (aka the Knavesmire) on a contraption called the Three-Legged Mare until the late 18th century, sometimes on the morning of race days. Things are more civilized nowadays at York, whose four-day Ebor Meeting is run just outside the medieval walls that still surround the ancient city, whose Roman name was Ebor. The Ebor Meeting features three of the better Group 1 races on the British calendar, all of which will resonate internationally this year.

First and foremost is the $1 million Juddmonte International. It was first run in 1972 as the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup, when Braulio Baeza produced one of the great front-running rides of all time as Roberto handed Brigadier Gerard the only loss of his career.

Last year, Sea the Stars made it the fourth of his six Group 1 triumphs on his inexorable path to world championship honors. This year’s edition looks like one of the deepest renewals in history as seven Group 1 winners of nine Group 1 races remained in the race at Wednesday’s entry stage.

They include William Hill’s 3-2 antepost favorite Rip Van Winkle, the Aidan O’Brien trainee who failed by a neck to hold off Canford Cliffs in the one-mile Sussex Stakes at Goodwood three weeks ago.

French invader Byword beat Twice Over by a half-length in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, and they will go at it again in the Juddmonte. Twice Over, who is owned by the race’s sponsor, has since won the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park on July 3, and there is little to choose between them, although William Hill has the Andre Fabre-trained Byword at 5-2, with the Henry Cecil-trained Twice Over at 11-4.

Richard Hannon raised eyebrows when he supplemented Dick Turpin to the race for $75,000. At the start of the year, it was doubted that the son of the Nureyev stallion Arakan could stay a mile, much less the Juddmonte’s extended 1 1/4 miles. Dick Turbin proved the naysayers wrong, at least as far as eight furlongs is concerned, when he won the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat on the heels of second-place finishes in the 2000 Guineas, the French 2000 Guineas, and the St. James’s Palace Stakes. Hughes is convinced that Dick Turpin will get 10 furlongs, although some may disagree. William Hill is offering 6-1 on him, whether the ghost of his namesake shows up or not.

On Thursday, defending Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf champ Midday will use the 1 1/2-mile Yorkshire Oaks as a stepping-stone to a second Cup title. The Cecil-trained, Juddmonte-owned filly is expected to face her arch nemesis Sariska, the Michael Bell trainee who has beaten her three times, but Midday is coming off a sharp score over Stacelita in the 1 1/4-mile Nassau Stakes.

Neither the Juddmonte nor the Yorkshire Oaks will provide more excitement than Friday’s feature. The Nunthorpe Stakes received a big boost when O’Brien decided to drop his Australian speedster Starspangledbanner down to five furlongs after a pair of Group 1 scores at six furlongs. The race will be a rematch between him and five-furlong King’s Stand Stakes winner Equiano, who was a game second to Starspangledbanner when stepped up to six panels for the July Cup. The Barry Hills-trained Equiano is better going shorter and may be capable of getting the best of Starspangledbanner, who must be considered a possiblility for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, the Turf Sprint, and even the Mile, a distance at which he is a Group 1 winner Down Under. Starspangledbanner is William Hill’s 9-4 Nunthorpe favorite, with Equiano pegged at 3-1.