Racing: Mona Lisa can exhibit priceless Classic ability

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The Independent Online

The cost of a horse is one thing, its worth quite another. This afternoon at York, two fillies from opposite ends of the financial spectrum meet in the Musidora Stakes. Mona Lisa, a daughter of Giant's Causeway, was the highest-priced auctioned yearling of her generation at 1.250m guineas (£1,312,500), whereas Fuerta Ventura, by Desert Sun, had a price tag of 3,200 euro (£2,077). And it could be argued that, so far, as winner of three races and £30,131 in prize money, Fuerta Ventura has been better value than Mona Lisa, who has yet to score and has recouped £13,127 of her purchase price.

The cost of a horse is one thing, its worth quite another. This afternoon at York, two fillies from opposite ends of the financial spectrum meet in the Musidora Stakes. Mona Lisa, a daughter of Giant's Causeway, was the highest-priced auctioned yearling of her generation at 1.250m guineas (£1,312,500), whereas Fuerta Ventura, by Desert Sun, had a price tag of 3,200 euro (£2,077). And it could be argued that, so far, as winner of three races and £30,131 in prize money, Fuerta Ventura has been better value than Mona Lisa, who has yet to score and has recouped £13,127 of her purchase price.

But now Mona Lisa has the chance to prove she is a serious athlete, not just a pretty, white-starred chestnut face. Her oil-painting looks, allied to an impeccable provenance, prompted the bidding battle between the Coolmore set and the Maktoum faction in the Tattersalls arena in Newmarket that went in the Irishmen's favour, and despite her lack of a victory, she has shown the best form of any of her five rivals today. That came when she finished an unlucky fourth, beaten less than two lengths after a rough passage, to Playful Act in the Ascot Fillies' Mile.

Her final outing, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies in Texas, was also at the top level, but running round a tight track on dirt was too severe and unfamiliar a test. She makes her seasonal debut today in the Group 3 contest that has proved a reasonable guide to the Oaks; though the last winner of both was Reams Of Verse eight years ago, four Knavesmire winners since - Bahr, Zahrat Dubai, Kalypso Katie and Punctilious - have been placed at Epsom.

Aidan O'Brien controls the Oaks market, with the 1,000 Guineas heroine Virginia Waters the 3-1 favourite and Kitty O'Shea third choice. Mona Lisa is currently a 20-1 shot. "We gave her a lot of time to recover after she ran in America," said the Ballydoyle maestro yesterday, "but she's been working away for a couple of months now. She's ready to start, and she will improve for the run."

Mona Lisa and Fuerta Ventura have actually met before, when they were second and third behind the short-head winner Saoire in a Leopardstown maiden in August with two and a half lengths between them. Fuerta Ventura's trainer, Ken Condon, with just 15 Flat horses at his yard near the Curragh, has described the syndicate-owned filly as "a dinger, tough and gutsy", but is realistic about her prospects of reversing the form. "She has improved from two to three," he said, "but she's got to improve a lot more in this class. But she'll get every yard of the trip."

The fact that Mona Lisa holds entries in the Coronation and Eclipse Stakes suggests that the jury is still out on her stamina. Her sire, already with one Classic winner, the O'Brien-trained Footstepsinthesand, from his first crop, was top-class up to 10 furlongs, and her family is the celebrated Meon Valley Stud dynasty that has produced Opera House and Kayf Tara. Today's extended 10f should be within her range.

The racecourse fortune of high-priced yearlings is chequered; for every Entrepreneur and Bosra Sham there is an Abshurr and a Softlyisthenight. And consider those just below Mona Lisa on the 2003 yearling leaderboard: Mille (1.2m guineas), De Laurentiis (1.2m) and Avalon (1m) have all yet to race.

Mille was one of the sole crop of Dubai Millennium so assiduously collected by Sheikh Mohammed. Only four of the ill-fated star's 56 foals escaped the Maktoum net; one of them, Khaled Abdullah's seven-furlong maiden winner Quickfire, is the second Oaks entry in this afternoon's Musidora field, but with the élite fillies from the Sir Michael Stoute yard underperforming of late she may have to settle for the frame behind Mona Lisa (2.30).

There has been racing on the Knavesmire, the expanse of common land just 20 minutes walk from York city centre, since 1731 and although nowadays the entertainment is confined to the track, time was when proceedings would be prefaced by a hanging, most notably of Dick Turpin in 1739. Those required to stand and deliver this week must do so in less harrowing circumstances than afforded to the highwayman's victims, but riches are at stake nonetheless.

Tomorrow, in the Dante Stakes, the Derby colts put their aspirations on the line, headed by the first two in last year's Racing Post Trophy, the Michael Bell-trained Motivator and Ballydoyle's Albert Hall. But O'Brien's strong Blue Riband hand may have lost one of its trumps; following negativity on the exchanges, last week's Chester winner Gypsy King has been removed from his position as Derby favourite in some lists.

HYPERION'S SELECTIONS FOR TODAY'S OTHER MEETINGS:

Newcastle: 6.15 Taras Leader 6.45 Brut 7.15 Kalishka 7.45 Commitment Lecture 8.15 Out Of India 8.45 Uncle Bulgaria

Perth: 6.30 Mr Tim 7.00 Millagros 7.30 Native Coral 8.00 Sikasso 8.30 Little Flora 9.00 Prince Adjal

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