A total of 100 entries were revealed on Wednesday for Britain's richest heritage handicap, the £500,000 Sky Bet Ebor, staged on the fourth and final day of the Welcome To Yorkshire Ebor Festival at York on Saturday, August 25.
Leeds-based Sky Bet extends its backing to the historic contest for the first time in 2018. Britain's most popular online bookmaker and York Racecourse agreed a five-year partnership, with prize money for this year's renewal of the famous mile and three-quarter race (1m 5f 188y) increasing by 75% to £500,000 and then leaping to £1 million in 2019.
Sky Bet's 10/1 favourite for the 2018 Sky Bet Ebor is Chelkar, one of 13 entries for Ireland's champion Jump trainer Willie Mullins. The five-year-old made his debut for Mullins when a close fourth in the Ascot Handicap over two and a half miles at Royal Ascot on June 19, having begun his career as a smart performer over shorter distances in France.
Mullins is seeking his second Sky Bet Ebor success, after taking the honours with Sesenta in 2009.
The three entries sharing 12/1 second favouritism with Sky Bet include Dash Of Spice (David Elsworth), successful in the 12-furlong Duke Of Edinburgh Handicap at Royal Ascot and a leading contender for the 59th John Smith's Cup at York this Saturday, July 14. Also on the 12/1 mark are Godolphin's Game Starter (Saeed bin Suroor), not seen out since recording an impressive victory at Doncaster in September, and Withhold (Roger Charlton), who is chasing a hat-trick of victories in major handicaps, having landed the Cesarewitch at Newmarket and Northumberland Plate at Newcastle on his latest two starts.
There has been no French-trained winner of the Sky Bet Ebor to date, but Christophe Ferland is aiming to change that.
The French trainer has entered the talented five-year-old horse Funny Kid (14/1), owned by the Wertheimer brothers, who raced at Belmont Park in America last time out.
The son of Lemon Drop Kid took part in the G2 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational Stakes over two miles on fast turf last month, finishing fifth to The Queen's Call To Mind, who is trained by William Haggas, but there was an excuse for the disappointing performance of the second favourite.
Funny Kid is no stranger to success in Britain, having landed the valuable All-Weather Marathon Championship on Good Friday at Lingfield Park. He was also successful this season in the G3 Prix de Barbeville over an extended 15 furlongs at Longchamp in April.
Ferland, based near Arcachon in South West France, commented: "The plan is to run Funny Kid in the Sky Bet Ebor.
"He had a problem as he hurt himself when racing at Belmont Park (June 8) - a bruise - but the horse is OK now.
"He will be ready to run again by the time of the Ebor in late August.
"He has done well this year, winning the All-Weather Championships Marathon at Lingfield Park in March and then the G3 Prix de Barbeville at Longchamp the following month.
"The shorter distance of the Ebor will not bother him and the prize money is very good."
Also on the 14/1 mark with Sky Bet is Elgin (Alan King). The very smart hurdler, successful in the G2 Elite Hurdle at Wincanton before a close fifth in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, has made a great start to his career on the Flat, landing novice contests at Chelmsford City and Catterick in facile fashion.
Dual Grand National-winning trainer Gordon Elliott took the Sky Bet Ebor back in 2010 with Dirar and has another live contender this year with Cartwright (14/1), who was a very useful performer for Sir Mark Prescott in 2017 before going on to an excellent first season over hurdles for Elliott, being successful at Listed level.
The other contenders priced at 14/1 with Sky Bet include Godolphin's First Nation (Charlie Appleby), winner of the very competitive Old Rowley Cup at Newmarket last season, Gustavus Vassa (Willie Mullins IRE), runner-up twice so far this year in handicaps at Cork and the Curragh, useful hurdler and recent Curragh handicap scorer Low Sun (Willie Mullins IRE) and the superbly-bred Royal Line (John Gosden), who was an easy winner when last seen at Sandown Park in April.
Flint Jack (1922 & 1923) is the only dual winner of the Sky Bet Ebor, but Nakeeta (Iain Jardine, 20/1) could bid to become the second this year following his head success in 2017.
The seven-year-old son of Sixties Icon went on to finish fifth in the G1 Melbourne Cup at Flemington, Australia in November following his Ebor victory.
Jardine's charge has failed to land a blow in both the Chester Cup (10th) and the Northumberland Plate (14th) at Newcastle so far this season, but the Scottish handler is relishing a return to York in August.
Jardine, based at Hetland Hill in Carrutherstown, said today: "Nakeeta is in good form at home and he has come out of his latest run fine.
"It's all systems go for York and the plan is definitely to head back for the Ebor. I don't think he will run again beforehand.
"We'll freshen him up and hopefully he can win the race for the second year in succession.
"I've been happy with him this season and we'll be finely tuning him for York."
Marmelo (Hughie Morrison, 16/1) was successful over the course and distance last time out in the Listed Sky Bet Grand Cup Stakes on June 16, when scoring by a neck from Weekender (John Gosden). Marmelo, a G2 winner in 2017, is the likely top-weight.
Michael Shinners, Racing PR Manager at Sky Bet, commented: "The entries for the Sky Bet Ebor look outstanding at this stage, with several Group class performers engaged.
"It is also pleasing to see so many entries from Ireland plus an entry from France which demonstrates just how popular this historic contest is and fully justifies the decision to significantly boost the prize money.
"There is always a strong ante-post market for the Sky Bet Ebor and Chelkar, who ran an eye-catching race on his first start for Willie Mullins at Royal Ascot, is Sky Bet's 10/1 favourite at this stage."
Weights for the Sky Bet Ebor will be revealed on Wednesday, July 25. A maximum of 20 runners can take part in the Sky Bet Ebor.