Racing: Sundrop can put Dettori's choice in shade

The derby meeting embarks at Epsom this afternoon with a paltry gathering for the Oaks, which is not so much a field as a window box. Just seven runners will fight it out for the premier fillies' Classic, the joint smallest congregation for 100 years, since the day in 1904 when Pretty Polly collected the middle leg of her Triple Crown.

The derby meeting embarks at Epsom this afternoon with a paltry gathering for the Oaks, which is not so much a field as a window box. Just seven runners will fight it out for the premier fillies' Classic, the joint smallest congregation for 100 years, since the day in 1904 when Pretty Polly collected the middle leg of her Triple Crown.

Even more depressing is the spread of contestants which remain. If Ed Dunlop's Ouija Board and Crystal, from the Brian Meehan yard, were not taking part, the Oaks would be what racing has effectively become at the highest level, an arm-wrestle between the Ballydoyle and Godolphin bastions.

Crystal has a chance, not of a clear nature, more the thickness of a wafer, while it would take an optimistic spirit to spell out the name of Ouija Board as the winner. The latter does at least have coincidence on her side, as she won the Pretty Polly Stakes at Newmarket a month ago with distinction, though the form of that Listed race is as yet unclear.

The absolute no-hoper is Aidan O'Brien's Kisses For Me. The double Oaks-winning trainer is better represented by Necklace and All Too Beautiful, even if the former looks a phantom of the filly which won the Moyglare Stud Stakes last August.

The Ballydoyle Fabergé eggs seem to be all in the basket of All Too Beautiful, Galileo's sister and unbeaten to boot. That is the impressive bit. Less persuasive is All Too Beautiful's course achievement, which is limited to Listed success at Navan, not yet established as the breeding ground of Epsom champions.

Godolphin, who have already won this bauble three times, saddle two, both of whom ran in different colours earlier in their career. Sundrop's was a simple transfer, as she formerly performed in Sheikh Mohammed's own maroon-and-white livery, while Punctilious is a product of one of the Sheikh's many maxims, in this case "in the race for excellence, purchase anything which can raise half a gallop".

Punctilious, once trained by Michael Jarvis, is a poor price now because Frankie Dettori's favour has fallen on her. And, in what will almost certainly be a contest of strategy, Godolphin appear to have the tactics wrong before they have even started.

Punctilious is the more extravagant worker and performed persuasively in her final serious piece of work on Newmarket's Trial Ground. By comparison, Sundrop merely chugged along. Yet it was like this before the 1,000 Guineas, when Dettori abandoned Sundrop, a fast-finishing runner-up to Attraction.

Punctilious has managed a flashy moment on the track too, when she collected the Musidora Stakes at York. She was allowed an easy lead on the Knavesmire, an option which will not be available today. Sundrop already has two decisions over her stablemate. She was in front in the Dubai private gallop in the spring and in the Fillies' Mile at Ascot last autumn, albeit by only a short-head, but she was the one going on at the finish.

It is only a small party, and one at which Dettori may be crying. Losing is one thing, but losing to a horse you should be riding is the most hurtful. SUNDROP (nap 4.10) is the one.

Godolphin also have the favourite for the Coronation Cup in Doyen. The former André Fabre inmate was fourth to Dalakhani in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe but reportedly has been slow to come to hand. As Brian Boru and Magistretti have shown that this environment does not suit, the value is last year's victor, Warrsan (next best 3.30).

"I don't see why he can't win again," the six-year-old's trainer, Clive Brittain, said yesterday. "He's been looking good in his work and I'm quietly confident."

In the Princess Elizabeth Stakes, Dettori's selection process has run more logically to Gonfilia (4.50), and in the Temple Stakes the Italian also has strong prospects. The Group Two event was controversially transferred from Sandown and is now controversially commenced by flip start due to the dispute with stalls handlers. It does not look like a true Group Two test either, a race stuffed with horses which usually contest the Listed handicap here - a forum in which Dettori's mount, Bishops Court (1.45), excels.

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