Racing: Maraahel can promote International cause

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The Independent Online

It was among the most dramatic of Group One races and, according to some, one of the most overrated. This afternoon, the magnifying glass will descend over York as the clues from the previous Knavesmire experience of the International Stakes begin to present themselves.

Maraahel is the barometer horse of the day and those who would like to think that Italy's Electrocutionist, his conqueror in the International at the Ebor meeting, is a horse with aspirations in both the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and at the Breeders' Cup series will be yearning for a forward performance.

Maraahel actually struck the front just over a furlong out last time he was in the white rose county, but was then worried out of the spoils as he finished third behind a multi-national force which also included the Japanese horse Zenno Rob Roy. Today should mean he is going from the lions' den to the penguins' pool as he drops down to Group Three level and the Strensall Stakes.

Maraahel is also dropping back to nine furlongs after running over a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half so far this season, but this should be little more than a statistical nicety. The progression of Sir Michael Stoute's representative, who was second in the Hardwicke Stakes, again at York, and also won the Huxley Stakes at Chester's May meeting, suggests he is the coming colt.

"It's all systems go it would seem and we are very excited about his chances," Angus Gold, the racing manager to the colt's owner, Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, said. "He ran terrifically in the International and came out of the race really well. I've spoken to Sir Michael's team and they say he is in great nick and should be fresh."

Just further ahead there is the prospect of the near forgotten Winds Of March putting her head into the beast's mouth by taking on Ouija Board at Newmarket on Saturday, while the immediate reappearance of the 2006 1,000 Guineas favourite, Flashy Wings, seems to extend beyond Sunday's Moyglare Stakes at the Curragh.

Winds Of March has not been seen on a racecourse for over 15 months, much to the chagrin of pedigree analysts who remain excited by this union between Sadler's Wells and the leading broodmare Alidiva. "She's fine, 100 per cent and we have just taken our time with her for an autumn campaign," Simon Marsh, racing manager to the filly's owner, Lord Lloyd-Webber, said. "She needs cut in the ground and hopefully could be Group class."

Flashy Wings is an eyecatching entry for trainer Mick Channon at the Curragh, particularly as the £168,600 race would represent a first step up to seven furlongs. But the gaze apparently extends elsewhere, to the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket.

More pertinent at the weekend is the name of Rumplestiltskin, who could emphasise her own credentials for the first fillies' Classic. The principal representative of Aidan O'Brien, who also has the Lowther Stakes third, Beauty Bright, and once-raced Race For The Stars in the race, is already as low as 12-1 for the 1,000 Guineas.

Another excursion of promise in Yorkshire for a Sheikh Hamdan horse is the St Leger, for which the Knavesmire winner Tawqeet remains a possibility. "The St Leger is the obvious option," Gold added yesterday. "The thing with the Melrose [Stakes, last time] was it underlined he is improving and he can stay. It's a bit of a jump from winning a race like that to winning a Classic, but we are happy with him. He's obviously got a lot of talent."

o Jamie Spencer, the leader in the race for the Flat jockeys' championship, gave up three of his six rides at Leicester yesterday due to dehydration. He intends to return to action with three rides at York today.