Embrace should put the squeeze on Cecil

A James Fanshawe-trained filly can stake her claim for the Oaks by beating High Walden in the Musidora Stakes today

When it comes to staying power, a whole field full of St Leger winners would have nothing on two of the Flat's leading trainers. Season after season, back through more than two decades, Henry Cecil and Sir Michael Stoute have sat on top of the trainers' table and defied any upstarts to knock them off. Few have seriously tried, and even fewer succeeded, so much so that between them, Stoute and Cecil have won the trainers' championship 15 times in the last 24 years.

Only the emergence of Godolphin and Saeed bin Suroor, champion three times in the last four years, has threatened to shift the balance of power on the British turf away from the Cecil-Stoute axis. When you are at the top of your profession, however, you remain a constant target, and Cecil must try to see off not one, but two, of our the brightest young trainers in the Musidora Stakes at York this afternoon. The prize for either James Fanshawe, who trains Embraced, or Jeremy Noseda, who saddles Kalypso Katie, would presumably be a run in the Oaks - for which the current favourite is Petrushka, trained by, yes, Sir Michael Stoute.

High Walden, who stayed on well to finish fifth in the 1,000 Guineas, will be an automatic choice for many punters today for two reasons: she is prepared by Cecil, and the race is the Musidora, which her trainer has won seven times since 1985. Reams Of Verse, who went on to win the Oaks, was his most recent winner three years ago, and High Walden is her three-parts sister.

Despite her pedigree, however, High Walden is not currently an Oaks entry, although she could be supplemented shortly before the race if her performance today is sufficiently impressive. Khaled Abdullah, her owner, could probably find the thousands of pounds required simply by fishing down the back of his sofa, but is still unlikely to run High Walden at Epsom for the sake of it. For her, today may be victory or bust as far as the Classic is concerned.

And if victory it is, it will surely be hard-won. Embraced and Kalypso Katie have three outings and as many wins between them, and Embraced in particular has caught the eye as a filly of immense potential, with a smooth success in a Listed race at Ascot 13 days ago in which she was going like the winner from the moment the stalls opened.

The only worry about today's race is that Embraced's outings to date have both been on a softish surface (the same, incidentally, is true of Kalypso Katie's solitary race). It is not their fault that the spring was one of the wettest in memory, however - it is for much the same reason that My Hansel, a 25-1 chance for Epsom, has not had a race before today - and Embraced (next best 3.10) appeals as the most interesting prospect in the Musidora field. The 14-1 available for the Classic this morning is also worth close inspection.

The handicaps which account for the remainder of the televised card will be run over a variety of distances, but in terms of quality, they are admirably consistent. The most interesting from a betting point of view is probably the 10-furlong event, in which Secret Agent, the favourite, looks very short at around 9-2. Trained by Stoute and ridden by Kieren Fallon he may be, but the top weight of 9st 7lb seems very harsh on the basis of what he has actually achieved so far.

DUCHAMP (nap 3.40), who will improve for his seasonal debut at Salisbury, is just as likely to develop into a decent handicapper, and is a much better morning price at 8-1. Another front-runner, Alberich (2.05), may be ready to win after a promising fifth in a well-contested race at Newmarket's Guineas meeting, while in the seven-furlong event, Queens Bench (2.35) has a fair chance, although a measure of the race's strength in depth is that Coral's early book has three co-favourites at 13-2.

Jimmy Quinn's licence to ride in Hong Kong was withdrawn until 1 July by the colony's jockey club yesterday following the vandalisation on Sunday of a car belonging to trainer Brian Kan, who sacked Quinn as his stable jockey earlier in the season. The attack occurred within the Sha Tin residential quarters for trainers and jockeys and was caught on camera.

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