Lailani claims invitation to Arc ball

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The Independent Online

In the magical setting of an aristocrat's estate high on sun-dappled golden hills, a Cinderella filly added another chapter to her fairy tale here yesterday. Lailani, who graduated from handicaps to win the Irish Oaks three weeks ago, added a second Group One victory to her CV by taking the Nassau Stakes.

And if she is a princess now, she may be a queen come the autumn. The next ambitious target is the Prix Vermeille, which is, although the words Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe were not uttered by Lailani's connections, the recognised distaffers' trial for Europe's autumn middle-distance championship. One bookmaking firm, Coral Eurobet, cut the brave little bay's odds for the Longchamp crown from 20-1 to 12-1.

Lailani's story is not exactly rags to riches in terms of her background, for she is a product of Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum's blueblooded breeding empire and is trained by Ed Dunlop at his palatial Gainsborough Stables in Newmarket. But as an athlete she has certainly risen above the scullery-maid status that was thought to be her lot in life. Yesterday's win made it six out of six for the season, via a lowly maiden at Windsor and handicaps at Newmarket, Haydock and Epsom.

Dunlop said: "When she won that maiden by 10 lengths, my immediate thought was that her handicap mark was wrecked and it is just amazing, almost unbelievable, what she has achieved. She has never been flamboyant at home and is totally unflappable. She was stuck in the horsebox for six hours on the way here on Friday, when it was held up in traffic, but she didn't turn a hair."

Lailani, a sweet-faced daughter of Unfuwain, was dropping back to 10 furlongs and showed real determination under Frankie Dettori as she reeled in the pace-setting Irish challenger Snowflake inside the final furlong and scored by a length and a half, with Time Away half a length further back in third. "I think the secret is that her heart is bigger than her body," added Dunlop, "and this is her day, not mine."

It was also Dettori's as he made it a Group One double at the meeting, having taken the Sussex Stakes on Noverre on Wednesday. He admitted that, for a heartbeat, he doubted Lailani's ability to catch Snowflake, in the race to make the pace for her better-fancied Ballydoyle stablemate, Sequoyah, but who was still clear going to the final furlong.

"I thought Time Away was the danger and I always felt I had her covered," Dettori said, "but I did not want to get there too early and have no target, so I gave the leaders a start. For one stride, I thought I wouldn't catch the Irish filly, but then mine hit top gear and I knew I had her. She gave me all she had – she is so generous and has not stopped surprising us. It is a pleasure to ride a horse like her, one who really tries for you."

In the Stewards' Cup half an hour later, with grey clouds beginning to scud across the sky as smartly as the 30 runners thundered down the straight six furlongs in one of the year's fiercest betting heats, 33-1 shot Guinea Hunter survived an inquiry to become the bookies' friend as he beat the well-backed 12-1 shot Halmahera, who had also run second in the race two years ago, and the 11-2 favourite Undeterred in a finish of necks. Another outsider, Perfect Peach at 40-1, was half a length back in fourth.

Guinea Hunter, who gave Snowflake's rider, Jamie Spencer, instant consolation, seemed to tighten up the second and third as he drifted across the course under pressure in the closing stages, but the stewards decided that the result had been unaffected. Tim Easterby, the winner's trainer, watched the five-year-old's triumph from Thirsk but his owner, Cayman Islands-based Martyn Burke, was on hand to give him a pat. Less happy was Kieren Fallon, on Undeterred. "I am sure I would have won if the winner had not crossed me," he said.

A few miles across the English Channel, still sparkling in the distance after 200 years of racing here in its matchless setting atop the Sussex Downs, the summer season began yesterday in Deauville, And if Goodwood is glorious, the Normandy town that becomes French racing's HQ for August is simply delightful. The Parisian training centres empty as the smart set head for the seaside – Chantilly-sur-mer with diamond-encrusted knobs on.

Proceedings began with a British victory. Firebreak, runner-up in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot, gave Ian Balding solace in advance for Halmahera's narrow defeat with a hard-fought neck defeat of the German raider, Flying Dash, in the Group Three Prix de Cabourg.

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