Qatar Racing's Roaring Lion landed a dominant score in the Betfred Dante Stakes (G2) at York May 17, putting away eight rival 3-year-old colts in emphatic style.
The Kentucky-bred son of Hill 'n' Dale Farms stallion Kitten's Joy was well-placed and moving well for jockey Oisin Murphy before unleashing a potent turn of foot in the final furlong. The 3-1 favorite was geared down close to home and finished 4 1/2 lengths clear of pacesetter Mildenberger, with Zabriskie a further 1 1/4 lengths back in third.
Bred by RanJan Racing, Roaring Lion was trying the 10 1/2-furlong trip for the first time after racing exclusively over one mile—most recently finishing 2 1/2 lengths behind Saxon Warrior when he finished fifth in the QIPCO Two Thousand Guineas (G1) at Newmarket—and appeared to relish the extra distance. Final time for the test on the York track rated good to firm was 2:09.79.
The victory gave trainer John Gosden a fourth win in the Dante in the last five years, including 2015 Investec Derby (G1) winner Golden Horn. The Dante is a key trial for Epsom's Blue Ribband, with 10 winners going on to land that race. Roaring Lion is now no bigger than 7-1 for Derby glory with British bookmakers.
"I've always said this is his trip, and he's proved himself over a mile and a quarter. I liked the way he hit the line strong. He's galloped out well," Gosden said. "I think it only pays an enormous compliment to Saxon Warrior, who beat us a neck in the Racing Post Trophy (G1) at Doncaster and was imperious in the Guineas.
"I think it just confirms the fact that the best Derby trial is the Guineas, and this is probably the second-best Derby trial. He's never been difficult at home. He's a lovely horse, but he's a playboy. He's inclined not to concentrate sometimes," he continued. "Between ourselves, I was expecting a performance like that. I would have been disappointed if he didn't give it."
Regarding Epsom, Gosden added, "I think we'll see how he is over the next few days, and if he's in great nick, we'll make a decision about which race to go for (Epsom or French Derby). We'll discuss it with the owner and the manager and the jockey. The point is, if we are in that position, it's a wonderful decision to have to make. I like Epsom and the Derby, obviously I do, but I'm not putting words in people's mouths."
Trainer Mark Johnston was bidding for back-to-back Dantes after Permian's win last year but had to settle for second with Mildenberger. The son of Teofilo led from the gates under James Doyle, and although not able to go with the winner once headed, he still battled on gamely to repel the remainder of the field.
"My first impression was it was a fantastic run behind an impressive winner. I said to James when he came in, 'Well done, you made a truly-run trial,'" Johnston said. "But then Charlie (son and assistant trainer) has quite rightly said he maybe didn't go fast enough for his own good, he set it up for a faster horse. There's absolutely no doubt he wants further. How much further only time will tell. We've got to be happy."
Long shot Zabriskie came home well to take third for trainer Aidan O'Brien after being anchored near the rear for much of the race under jockey Seamie Heffernan. The Frankel colt was a neck clear of Merlin Magic in fourth, with another neck back to Godolphin's Nordic Lights, who rounded out the top five.