The ears of a filly called Islington were prettily and generously pricked after she won the Musidora Stakes here yesterday but really, they should have been burning. Despite Islington coming through her final exam for the Oaks three weeks on Friday with, if not quite honours, certainly a good upper second, her trainer and jockey immediately began to suggest more worthy candidates for the head of the market of the premier distaff Classic.
"The 1,000 Guineas was a wonderful trial, better than this" said Sir Michael Stoute, "won by a filly who will be perfectly suited by the step up to a mile and a half." Kieren Fallon's jockey's-eye view also looked favourably in the direction of the Newmarket race, though past the winner Kazzia to fifth-placed Quarter Moon. "She was seriously unlucky that day," he said, "she was almost brought down at one point and was fortunate to stand up."
But despite the views of two of the best judges in the business, Islington's length defeat of the maiden Spinette caused her to harden in Oaks betting to favourite in all lists, ahead of Kazzia and Quarter Moon, and as short as 5-2 with Ladbrokes.
The last 1,000 Guineas winner to take the Oaks was Salsabil in 1990. Since then one Musidora Stakes winner has followed up at Epsom (Reams of Verse five years ago) and six have been placed. As a trial, the Knavesmire's demanding 10 and a half furlong test is reliable and the positive message to take from yesterday's edition is that Islington won despite not being suited by the run of the race.
Fallon, widely criticised after being beaten on the favourite Flight Of Fancy 12 months ago, was determined that there should not be an action replay and took the initiative fully three furlongs out. As Half Glance led her four rivals into the straight Islington, in her slipstream on the rails, was momentarily caught flat-footed. But to her credit the daughter of Sadler's Wells quickly came back on the bridle and then quickened nicely as Alexander Three D and Fraulein, on her right, threatened to close off her route past the leader.
She had more than enough pace to deal with that situation but being in front so early was not what Fallon had planned, particularly on a relatively inexperienced filly – yesterday's race was only her fourth – with a buffetting crosswind making her progress down the long run for home more daunting than usual. But she had enough in hand to take time out to cock those ears curiously at the camera car on the infield.
"I had to go way too soon," said Fallon, whose efforts to concentrate Islington's mind earned him a one-day ban for raising his whip above shoulder height, "and she found a good turn of foot to get me out of jail. But I would have been happier with cover for longer. She hasn't got the brilliance of a Reams Of Verse, but she's a different type. She stays well, goes on any ground and you can ride her anywhere. She's a nosy sort of filly, keeps looking at things and she will have learned a lot from today."
Lord Weinstock's Islington, out of St Leger second Hellenic, carries the same pale blue colours as 1983 Oaks winner Sun Princess, the last maiden to win a Classic. Yesterday's runner-up, Spinette, who finished strongly, will try to emulate that feat but the winner will surely always have her measure. "She keeps answering our questions and is progressing," added Stoute, "but she will have to do so again to be in the shake-up next month and is a tight price."
If Stoute feels Islington had been hyped beyond the public evidence, then the same must apply to Right Approach, one of the stable's candidates in today's Dante Stakes, traditionally the definitive Derby trial in this country. If he wants to he can point the finger of blame at Fallon, rather than gallops touts, for that. Earlier in the year the jockey described the Royal colourbearer as potentially the best he had ever ridden, words which looked hollow when the colt was beaten (under Johnny Murtagh) at Sandown last month.
"I think he was just a bit fresh," Fallon said yesterday, "and the boss's horses usually come on for a run. I still have confidence in him and hope he proves me right." It will be a day of double atonement for the Irishman, who wore the same silks on Flight Of Fancy last year.
One of Right Approach's rivals, Sir George Turner, makes a quick reappearance, with blinkers applied, after earning notoriety as the only Mark Johnston charge to fail to win a Derby trial this season when he was short-headed in the Dee Stakes last week.
The Middleham trainer confirmed yesterday that his Chester Vase winner Fight Your Corner has been bought by Sheikh Mohammed to run for his second son, Hamdan.Reuse content