Racing: Soviet Song seeks a Sussex Stakes encore

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The Independent Online

As Ouija Board discovered at Sandown earlier this month, racehorses have little time for etiquette. She had a series of doors slammed in her face when taking on male opposition in the Eclipse Stakes, and that unchivalrous treatment yesterday helped to persuade her connections to decline a meeting with Hurricane Run at Ascot on Saturday.

But those responsible for her only rival as the most popular mare in the land, Soviet Song, seem to be reacting rather more positively to her own misfortunes since Royal Ascot - when one golden afternoon suggested them, at five and six respectively, to be at least as good as ever.

Soviet Song beat only one home when hot favourite for the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket, but now seems almost certain to take on the colts for the third year running in the Cantor Spreadfair Sussex Stakes, highlight of that gorgeous pageant on the Downs next week.

Since her run at Newmarket there have been suggestions that her success in the Windsor Forest Stakes at Ascot had disguised an underlying decline in Soviet Song, as she had merely outclassed a field of inferiors. Indeed, connections have been considering switching her from the Sussex Stakes to a race for fillies and mares at Deauville on Sunday. But yesterday her trainer confirmed that she would be staying on home soil.

"She'll work in midweek and if I'm happy with her in my own mind then she will go to Goodwood," James Fanshawe explained. "Why avoid the race? She won it two years ago and finished second last year. We get an extra four days, too, compared with Deauville, and she has seemed fine since the Falmouth."

In fairness, the patient tactics deployed as usual on the mare left her with a lot of ground to recover in a slowly-run race, and sectional times revealed that she produced much the fastest figure for any furlong when asked to quicken. "It was a slow pace when she won the race the previous year, too, but this was even slower," Fanshawe said. "It was two seconds slower than the handicap on the card. But I don't think that was the whole excuse - I know she had to pick up to get into it but for the last half-furlong she was treading water. I just didn't feel she was moving as well as she might have done, that she wasn't quite striding out on that firm ground. But she has seemed A1 since."

With Jamie Spencer suspended, Fanshawe needs to agree a replacement with the mare's owners. Johnny Murtagh and Oscar Urbina have both won big races on her. Fanshawe has already booked Frankie Dettori for Frizzante, favourite for the Vodafone Stewards' Cup on Saturday week, but warned that nobody should back Sir Gerard, who also heads the betting for the Totesport Mile the previous day, as he may yet be switched to a listed race at the meeting.

A dazzling winner of the Britannia Handicap at the royal meeting, Sir Gerard has predictably had bloodstock agents swarming around Pegasus Stables since. "It's the owners' call," Fanshawe said. "They have received some big offers but they want to enjoy the horse. After all, he has a great physique and is very much the type to keep improving. He has plenty of scope and it will open up a few more avenues if he gets a mile and a quarter."

As for Ouija Board, it is easy to understand the decision not to supplement her for the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes. The Vodafone Nassau Stakes a week later should be a penalty kick, in relative terms, and a hard race in high summer might not be ideal with Churchill Downs and Sha Tin dominating her agenda later in the year.

No doubt the fact that Lord Derby would have had to fork out £70,000 to add her name to the field clinched the decision, which apparently went to the wire yesterday morning. Having said that, it seems unfathomable why Ouija Board was not in the race in the first place. Either way, it will be instructive to see her persevere over 10 furlongs on a track as sharp as Goodwood, because she certainly seemed to relish the emphasis on speed when beating Electrocutionist at Royal Ascot.

Her absence means that Hurricane Run will face a very small field on Saturday, all the other candidates in Coolmore ownership having been taken out yesterday. There were just eight acceptors, including two possible pacemakers for Electrocutionist in Cherry Mix and Belenus.

Chris McGrath

Nap: My Princess (Yarmouth 5.10)

NB: Against The Grain (Ayr 4.25)