Racing: Soumillon can rely on Riyalma to lift Oaks

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The Independent Online

Jockeys from across the Channel have perpetrated some infamous bungles at Epsom over the years, but nobody is entertaining the possibility of le coq-up sportif over the next two days.

Though he does not turn 25 until Sunday, Christophe Soumillon has long ago disarmed all but the most xenophobic punters. Like Frankie Dettori, he has matched flair with utility in the crucibles of international racing and there has not been a syllable of dissent about his eligibility for a treble achieved only by Geoff Lewis, 35 years ago.

In the Vodafone Derby tomorrow Soumillon partners the hot favourite, Visindar, and today he has legitimate hopes of winning both the other Group One prizes at this meeting - just as Lewis did when he added the Oaks on Altesse Royale and Coronation Cup on Lupe to Mill Reef's Derby.

Yet the fact is that Soumillon has had little opportunity to chart the topography of the most bewildering racecourse he will ever encounter. In fact, he has had only six rides round Epsom, including a fairly clumsy performance on Polish Summer in the Coronation Cup. Having set himself plenty to do, he went for an ambitious run up the rail just as one of the leaders weakened in his path.

Of the three races, much the biggest field lines up in the Derby - Visindar was yesterday drawn eight of 18 final declarations - and Soumillon should find it relatively simple to claim a position on both Shirocco, odds-on to beat five rivals for the Coronation Cup, and Riyalma, who faces nine in the Oaks.

This filly is entitled to redress the grievance still felt by her owner and trainer over the disqualification of Aliysa in 1989. The Aga Khan was so incensed by the drug-testing procedures that cost his filly the race that for some years he boycotted the British Turf.

Riyalma is typical of the formula by which he has sustained robust family bloodlines with a dash of extraneous flavour. Her dam was a staying mare by the Derby winner and fine broodmare sire, Kahyasi, but her sire, Selkirk, has given her a complementary dose of speed.

Having shaped very well when raw for her debut last year, Riyalma reappeared in the Pretty Polly Stakes at the Guineas meeting and won with authority. It looks significant that Stoute, who went on to win three other trials, did not bother winning a maiden with her first. And whereas he prevaricated with the other trial winners, he had no hesitation in committing Riyalma (4.05) to Epsom.

This filly retains great scope for improvement, physically and mentally, and not least over another two furlongs here. Some cavilled over her head carriage at Newmarket, but she was still green and hails from a family of hardy, progressive animals.

Of his three other options, Stoute has elected to run just Short Skirt, who beat Alexandrova in the Musidora Stakes at York but could not displace her at the head of the betting. Short Skirt will get no help from her sire, Diktat, in lasting the extra distance but her maternal family is replete with stamina.

Stoute has expressed doubts about Epsom, suspecting she would need soft ground to come down the hill and it is easy to see why the bookmakers retain their faith in Alexandrova.

For a start, her contemporaries at Ballydoyle have almost uniformly made dramatic improvement for their first run this season. Leaving the gate, moreover, she was pitched on to her knees and lost all rhythm at the back of the field, only to make a potent move on the bridle in the straight.

Whether she was idling or tiring, once getting to the front, she seems certain to get involved here. The only slight reservation is her history of drifting under pressure.

Speciosa has illuminated the season by winning the 1,000 Guineas, but only romantics can embrace the leap of faith required by a daughter of Danehill Dancer stepping up half a mile. As for her habit of darting left, it is too convenient to say that Tattenham Corner turns the correct way. The hill is no place for an unco-operative animal.

Time On had the run of the race at Chester, and the best residual value instead rests with Guilia.

It was in the Oaks that Ouija Board first confirmed her élite calibre and she has since produced a series of inspiring performances around the world. She has a rare "home game" in the Coronation Cup, where Soumillon may try to draw her sting with a positive ride on that earnest galloper, Shirocco.

Hyperion's Selections

BATH: 6.15 Apollo Five 6.45 Smooth Jazz 7.15 Twinned 7.45 Moonlight Music 8.15 Adantino 8.45 Loch Verdi.

TOWCESTER: 6.25 Hill Forts Timmy 6.55 Curraheen Chief 7.25 Kewsick 7.55 Uncle Wallace 8.25 Would You Believe 8.55 Calomeria.

WOLVERHAMPTON: 2.00 Champagne Shadow 2.30 Orchestration 3.05 Ockums Razor 3.45 Warsaw Pact 4.25 Hand Of Destiny 5.00 Iced Diamond.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Celtic Carisma

(Catterick 3.20)

NB: Riyalma

(Epsom 4.05)