Racing: Legend beckons French queen

Divine Proportions defends perfect record at Deauville in what may be contest of season
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The white-faced bay takes a nine-for-nine record to the Prix Jacques le Marois, where three top-class males, Dubawi, Valixir and Whipper, lie in wait. It is not just the race of the weekend, it could well be the contest of the season.

Divine Proportions is odds-on to vanquish the boys, winners of seven Group One races between them. Her preparation since her warm-up over the same mile track two weeks ago has gone smoothly, according to trainer Pascal Bary. "She has come a great deal," he said yesterday, "and I was more than satisfied with her final workout during the week.

"She had not done much work before her last race, and she was a little lax in leaving the stalls. But this time she'll be sharper and much more energetic, and she will be ridden much closer to the pace." The daughter of Kingmambo's owners, the Niarchos family, have won the Deauville feature eight times already, including with three other crack fillies, Miesque (twice), East Of The Moon and Six Perfections.

With two pacemakers in the field of six - one for Divine Proportions, another for the Godolphin representative Dubawi - a true gallop, which should suit all four principals, is ensured. But, as events at Newbury yesterday demonstrated, even in a small field tactics and luck in running come into play.

In both the feature races ill-fortune, or ill-judgement, was in evidence. In the five-strong Geoffrey Freer Stakes the favourite Mamool had his route to victory cut off when Richard Hills, on gallant front-running Mubtaker, quite legitimately closed the gap on the rails that Kerrin McEvoy had aimed for. And in the Hungerford Stakes Jamie Spencer found himself boxed in on Majors Cast at a crucial moment in the closing stages.

The last-named seven-furlong contest marked the return to action of one of last year's Classic heroines, Attraction, winner of the Newmarket and Curragh Guineas and two other Group One prizes, but not seen since she flopped, injured, in Hong Kong in May. She took her 10 rivals along until ring-rustiness kicked in approaching the final furlong.

By that point Jimmy Fortune had sent Sleeping Indian, the 9-4 joint-favourite, on, getting first run on the pocketed Majors Cast and beating him by a length. Heavy rain arrived at the Berkshire track in time to benefit Sleeping Indian. "He's a nice, progressive horse," said trainer John Gosden, "and it was good to see him prick his ears close to home, suggesting he had something left." Attraction, carrying a hefty penalty for last year's exploits, ran perfectly respectably in fourth. "I was pleased with her," said rider Kevin Darley. "She jumped from the gates and showed all her old zest, and although she tired, she finished her race." A post-race clean bill of health will mean a tilt at the Matron Stakes at the Curragh next month.

Eight-year-old Mubtaker so nearly pulled off a fourth straight success in the Geoffrey Freer Stakes. He repelled all others up the Newbury straight bar one; Lochbuie, ridden by John Egan, caught him in the last stride to take the Group Two by a neck.

At Newmarket, it was a grey day, meteorologically and whimsically. The Grey Horse Handicap, confined to horses of that eponymous colour, was almost inconsequential in racing's greater scheme but there was no denying the aesthetic value of this charge of the white brigade before a charmed audience.

The scudding clouds were echoed in cool-hued coats and the jockeys contrasted splendidly with their mounts. Not that shades of grey are dull, though. There was Paris Bell, dark as tempered steel; gunmetal Phantom Song; Kirkby's Treasure, with platinum dapples among the iron; Coleorton Dane, almost bronze; Madhavi, his pewter coat offset by a mane of jet; the near-white Middleton Grey, with a delicate silver tracery; and snowy Old Bailey.

None of yesterday's contestants - the race was a six-furlong 0-85 handicap - could be mentioned in the same breath as the flat game's amazing greys, horses like Daylami, Abernant, Mahmoud, Native Dancer, Spectacular Bid, Mumtaz Mahal or The Tetrarch, the 1913 juvenile champion who is a seven-greats grandsire of yesterday's winner Middleton Grey. But this is a game where the beauty of the beast is an inherent attraction.