Mouramara prepares the ground

Omens looking good for stablemate's contribution to Aga Khan's quadruple Group One bid

The Koran is not explicit about Allah's ability to walk on water, but the followers of the Ismaili sect of the Shia Muslims may be beginning to suspect their spiritual leader on earth has that ability. The Aga Khan, with Sinndar, Karasta, Enzeli and Tajoun lined up for Group One glory here today, warmed up for what could be a great weekend by taking the first of yesterday's feature races.

The Koran is not explicit about Allah's ability to walk on water, but the followers of the Ismaili sect of the Shia Muslims may be beginning to suspect their spiritual leader on earth has that ability. The Aga Khan, with Sinndar, Karasta, Enzeli and Tajoun lined up for Group One glory here today, warmed up for what could be a great weekend by taking the first of yesterday's feature races.

The John Oxx-trained filly Mouramara would not be allowed to polish the nails in her celebrated stablemate Sinndar's shoes at home but after a troubled year she ensured her future in the Aga Khan's broodmare band by taking the Prix Royallieu. A half-length win in a Roscommon maiden three months ago is perhaps not the most obvious route to Group Two success, but the fragile daughter of Khayasi, who is lame as often as not, thoroughly deserved her length and a half win and her progress to this level is a fine testament to the patience and skill of her trainer.

"We thought enough of her to enter her in the Irish Oaks," the Aga Khan said, "and John has always had the confidence that she had the ability to win a good race, but she has not been the easiest of fillies." Presumably there will be relief all round that she can now retire with honour.

Most unusually, Sheikh Mohammed, despite the resources at his disposal, has been unable to muster a contender for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe this year. His best middle-distance horse Fantastic Light, who chased home Montjeu in the King George, is a fast-ground specialist and has been earmarked for the Turf Classic in New York next weekend en route for the Breeders' Cup in Kentucky.

But there was consolation of a sort when Slickly, head-hunted from André Fabre's stable a year ago, put a poor effort in the Arlington Million six weeks ago behind him by landing the odds with a length defeat of his fellow British raider Albarahin in the Prix Dollar, yesterday's other Group Two contest. The extended mile and a quarter by the Seine clearly suits the grey four-year-old well; this was his third course and distance victory. "We were disappointed with him in Chicago," said his trainer Saeed bin Suroor, "but the ground was too fast and we realised even beforehand that it was not going to be his day. And the race and the travelling did not take too much out of him, as you can see."

There are no British runners in today's Arc for the first time since Exbury frightened the raiders away in 1963. But the English obsession with the weather was alive and well under the trees in the Bois de Boulogne yesterday. The forecast intermittent rain, which would ease the ground in the hot favourite Montjeu's favour, failed to arrive and local experts were predicting that the penetrometer reading, after a warm sunny afternoon, would be 2.9 by today, the equivalent of the good to firm on which Sinndar has sparkled. Mick Kinane, Montjeu's partner, said: "It's riding slower than good now. We'll have to wait and see what tomorrow brings."

"We do not know what might happen up there," echoed the Aga Khan, glancing at the sky, "but even if it did rain overnight the ground should not be as soft as it was last year. If Sinndar should win the Arc, beating a horse like Montjeu, I think he would have to be considered one of the very greats. But the Arc should never be considered a two-horse race."

The Arc may be bereft of a British-based challenge but there is strength in depth among the foreign contingent in the Prix de l'Abbaye, with only a flat back four defending the home side's honour. Unusually, two two-year-olds take on their elders in the five-furlong dash, including the tiny, lightning fast filly Superstar Leo, from William Haggas's yard. The last two-year-old to win France's premier sprint was Sigy, in 1978.

At Newmarket there was another first-class demonstration of the trainer's art, this time by Tring-based Peter Harris, when Katy Nowaitee took the Cambridgeshire Handicap. Niggling physical problems had restricted the four-year-old daughter of Komaite to one previous run this year, in which she hinted at a rewarding season with a victory in the Spring Mile at Doncaster. That was 191 days ago, but punters retained the faith and backed her down to 6-1 for the nine-furlong cavalry charge.

She was one of just five to race on the far rail as the 35-strong field split into its customary two groups. Nooshman, one of the 11-2 joint-favourites, burst clear of the main pack two furlongs out, but John Reid on Katy Nowaitee was aware of the threat and drove his filly clear to score by a length and three-quarters. Nooshman was three and a half clear of Pinchincha (16-1) and Man O'Mystery, separated by a head.

Newmarket's Group Two contest, the Sun Chariot Stakes, has lost its gloss with the upgrading of today's Prix de l'Opera, also for distaffers only, at Longchamp to Group One status. But there may be a bright future for the Geoff Wragg-trained winner Danceabout, who beat Alshakr a neck and then survived an inquiry. "I do not usually keep fillies in training at four," said her owner-breeder Lady Tavistock, "but Geoff says she has plenty still to offer. He wants to train her for the Sussex Stakes."

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