Sir Michael Stoute planted yet another acorn yesterday but nobody seems certain which one will grow into the mighty oak. The narrow success of Scottish Stage in the Swettenham Stud Trial at Newbury means that Stoute has won four of the five rehearsals for the Vodafone Oaks staged in Britain over the past fortnight.
Only the Cheshire Oaks eluded him, but the confusion caused by this unprecedented spree can be measured by the reaction of different bookmakers yesterday. Ladbrokes pushed Scottish Stage out to 12-1 from 7-1 for Epsom, while Totesport cut her to 5-1 from 7-1.
Clearly, they cannot both be right, but it is easy to see how it has happened. Scottish Stage was tailed off in the early stages, and it might be argued that only an exceptional filly could work her way past the whole field the way she did. On the other hand, in another stride she would have been nailed by the rapid finish of Guilia, who had won her only start at Thirsk last year at 50-1.
Rae Guest may well run Guilia at Epsom, for which she is 16-1 with Coral, but it remains to be seen where Scottish Stage will fit into Stoute's plans. By Selkirk from the family of Sun Princess, she showed plenty of promise in two quick runs last autumn and would have no problem with the extra distance at Epsom. Stoute seems to favour Riyalma over the Aga Khan's other filly, Sindirana, but she would like easy ground - as would Short Skirt, who won at York on Wednesday.
Conditions continued to deteriorate throughout that meeting, which ended yesterday with a real slog for the Emirates Airlines Yorkshire Cup. Percussionist saw off Sergeant Cecil by three lengths to provide impetus to the expanding Flat string trained by Howard Johnson for Graham Wylie.
"This horse didn't like hurdling, so we thought we'd bring him back on the Flat," Wylie said. "The jumping is a hobby but the Flat is hopefully going to be a self-financing business."
That hardy yeoman, Sergeant Cecil, surpassed himself in the conditions and his proud trainer, Rod Millman, will now train him for the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot - for which he is 6-1 favourite with William Hill.
"A couple of times it looked like he was starting to struggle, as he tried to get to grips with the ground," Millman said. "But he kept picking up again."
The grim conditions here completely unravelled plenty of runners and none could cope as well as Short Dance, who bolted up by 12 lengths in the Michael Seely Memorial Fillies' Stakes. She may now go for the Irish 1,000 Guineas next Saturday.
Her trainer, Barry Hills, hopes to persuade the owner of his 2,000 Guineas third, Olympian Odyssey, to let him go for the Vodafone Derby but Marcus Tregoning still rates Sir Percy, the runner-up, no better than 50-50 to make Epsom. "When he ran at Newmarket the ground was very firm," Tregoning said. "He's a good-actioned horse and came out of the race sore. We elected to give him time just walking but he's back in exercise and we'll have more of an idea next week."