Festival of Racing: Heavyweights square up for mile title decider: Distant View and East Of The Moon head the Ascot bill

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The Independent Online
ON BIG-FIGHT weekend, it is hardly surprising that extravagant and improbable boasts have been forwarded for two aspirants.

For once, though, the hyperbole that has been generated for a world-title fight (between Lennox Lewis and Oliver McCall) has seemed small beer compared with the praise Distant View and East Of The Moon will carry into their encounter in today's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot.

Distant View has won just two of his five starts, but has nonetheless earned recognition from his trainer, Henry Cecil, as the best miler he has prepared since Kris. As the Newmarket man will have trawled a deep reservoir of excellent thoroughbreds, this is no minor accolade.

This assessment for Distant View is based largely on what Cecil witnesses while his toothbrush is still damp. Observers in the bushes at Headquarters this season have been forced to use the lateral neck movement of Grand Prix spectators when the colt has been at morning work. He has been so destructive on the gallops that he is regularly asked to start 10 lengths behind useful companions yet still bears down on them like a lurcher after a hare.

It has to be said that the transfer of this omnipotence to a racecourse was some time in coming, though Distant View's success in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood in July will have converted many of the doubters.

The colt again produced grade A homework this week, but after helping Pat Eddery, his regular partner, past horses who appeared to be wearing ankle chains, there were words of caution. The champion jockey warned that if heavy rain came to Ascot, his mount's explosive speed might be sucked into the Berkshire turf.

East Of The Moon's great statement came in the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville last month, when she outsprinted Sayyedati (an opponent again today). The daughter of Miesque, a mare who was runner-up in this race seven years ago, was ridden that day, as she usually is, by Cash Asmussen.

The American is as easy to cut off as a telephone salesman, but one sphere he rarely cares to discuss is the relative merit of the many talented horses he has ridden. His unambiguous thoughts on the Francois Boutin-trained runner may therefore be instructive. 'East Of The Moon is definitely the best filly I've ridden at a mile,' he said.

She was also the filly, however, who dropped back into the rank of mortals last time out when beaten in the Prix du Moulin by another of today's rivals and another French-trained filly, Andre Fabre's Ski Paradise.

The latter will be under particular scrutiny today as she will be ridden by Yutaka Take, the Japanese jockey who, next weekend, partners the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe favourite, White Muzzle. If Take, who also rides Richard Hannon's Ham N'Eggs earlier in the day, makes even the semblance of a mistake the vitriol will flow.

Also among the vanguard in the betting is Turtle Island, who is trained by Peter Chapple-Hyam. The colt's odds have dropped dramatically in the last week, following the promise of soft ground. It must be remembered, though, that when he has won emphatically on spongy terrain the opposition has been far from fearsome.

As befits the Festival Of British Racing there is no weak link on the card, with four Group races and two quality handicaps.

The Fillies' Mile and the Royal Lodge Stakes will provoke movement in the ante- post market for next year's Classics, with the colts' race seemingly a match between Eltish and Stiletto Blade.

Takkatamm, who chased home Stiletto Blade at Kempton, will have his supporters at Haydock, where the most compelling race on the card may be the Castle Irwell Handicap, in which Kieran Fallon and Stuart Webster ride. Webster partners Sailormaite, the horse from which he was dragged by Fallon at Beverley recently.

Both men will appear at the Jockey Club on Tuesday to explain their parts in that fracas, which contained the sort of action that Lewis and McCall will do well to match in the early hours tomorrow.

(Photograph omitted)

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