Midterm and Muntazah set to battle and test Derby mettle in Dante Stakes

Geoffrey Riddle previews the premier Derby trial Dante Stakes set for Thursday afternoon at York, featuring a high-profile battle between Mideterm and Muntazah.

A view of York Racecourse. Alan Crowhurst / Getty Images
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YORK, ENGLAND // Master and apprentice duel today when Michael Stoute’s Midterm clashes with Owen Burrows’ Muntazah in the Dante Stakes.

Burrows worked for Stoute for over a decade as his assistant in Newmarket before Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid and Barry Hills came calling to give Burrows the opportunity of a lifetime at Kingwood House Stables in Lambourn last year.

Burrows helped shape three Derby winners in Kris Kin, North Light and Workforce, who shared the same Prince Khalid Abdullah silks as Midterm, at Freemason Lodge and the latter two both used the Dante Stakes as a stepping stone before winning at Epsom.

“Workforce became the first horse to run in the Dante, not win it, and then go on to win the Derby,” Burrows said.

“We also had Tartan Bearer at Sir Michael’s, who won the Dante in 2008.

“I still speak to Sir Michael and at the end of last season I went back down to Newmarket to watch his gallops and have breakfast with him.

“I saw him after Midterm won at Sandown and he said he was such a laid-back horse. I think he is definitely the horse to beat and he looks exactly the horse that Sir Michael will excel with.”

Burrows has shown already that he has the firepower at his disposal to be competitive at the top level after Massaat, who is also being prepared for the Derby on the first Saturday in June, ran a huge race to finish second to Galileo Gold in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket 11 days ago.

Muntazah is a giant of a horse by Dubawi, who capped last season with a third-placed finish behind today’s rivals Foundation and Deauville in the Group 3 Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket in September.

The mount of Paul Hanagan has long been seen by the Shadwell operation as a Derby possible, and today’s Group 2 race, which the Sheikh Hamdan, the UAE Minister Of Finance, last won with Sakhee in 2000, will go some way to indicating whether the first Saturday in June at Epsom, or Royal Ascot two weeks later, is the ultimate target.

“He is by Dubawi and his dam, Ramoush, was bred by Shadwell and was third in the Oaks, so I do not see the Derby distance being a problem,” Burrows added.

“He is still a very big horse, so it is good thing he hasn’t grown over the winter. We have been waiting for the better ground with him. He is such a good mover and got stuck in soft ground at Newmarket last season.

“We’re hoping he is a Derby horse, but this race will show us where we should go next.”

Midterm, who will be ridden by Irishman Pat Smullen, owes his position as favourite for the premier Derby trial after his easy victory in the Classic Trial at Sandown last month in what was only his second race.

Alongside Foundation, Deauville and Muntazah, Midterm faces eight others including the highly regarded Wings Of Desire, who will be ridden by Frankie Dettori, and Choreographer, who is a high-profile runner for the China Horse Club and trainer Roger Varian.

Midterm is by dual Derby winner Galileo out of Midday, who was a close second in the 2009 English Oaks, and with such aristocratic breeding it is no wonder the colt treats mere gallops at home with utter disdain.

“He shows us very little at home. He’s never done an impressive bit of work. That’s him,” Stoute said.

“At least we know he does it on the racecourse; he went to Sandown and answered the questions there.

“We don’t know whether that form is good enough. We’ve got to come through another trial so it’s early days.”

“We’d welcome a sixth Derby, but we’re a long way from that yet.

“Of course there’s excitement there, but we’re not getting carried away.”

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