Racing: Vista Bella to put Classic trial in a new perspective

At a quarter past two this afternoon, two sets of starting stalls 3,407 miles apart are scheduled to spring open simultaneously and in so doing will launch the 2005 search for a Classic star. At Kempton, on the site of a former gravel pit in Sunbury, three of the 10 runners in the Masaka Stakes hold an entry in the 1,000 Guineas. In Dubai, an altogether more exotic location, the focus will be on just one horse as Shamardal, last year's champion European two-year-old, puts his credentials as a Kentucky Derby contender on the line.

At a quarter past two this afternoon, two sets of starting stalls 3,407 miles apart are scheduled to spring open simultaneously and in so doing will launch the 2005 search for a Classic star. At Kempton, on the site of a former gravel pit in Sunbury, three of the 10 runners in the Masaka Stakes hold an entry in the 1,000 Guineas. In Dubai, an altogether more exotic location, the focus will be on just one horse as Shamardal, last year's champion European two-year-old, puts his credentials as a Kentucky Derby contender on the line.

The start of the domestic Flat turf season has strayed from its traditional venue at Doncaster because of the unusual earliness of Easter, but its transfer is not unique; it last happened 16 years ago and will do so again in 2008. And, to be fair, the Masaka Stakes is more interesting than the apprentice handicap that kicks off proceedings on Town Moor.

The mile contest named after the 1948 Oaks heroine who began her three-year-old campaign with a victory at Kempton is probably the most humble of the filly Classic trials, but if its 26-year roll of honour is not littered with the names of superstars, it is at least dotted. The best renewal was in 1982, when Time Charter, who went on to take the Oaks, won and Awaasif (Yorkshire Oaks) was fourth. Since then Nicer followed up in the 1993 Irish 1,000 Guineas and last year's winner, Hathrah, beat all bar Attraction and Sundrop on the Rowley Mile.

This year's Guineas hopefuls are the Mick Channon pair Joint Aspiration and Umniya, and Vista Bella, trained by Michael Jarvis. Joint Aspiration owns the best form, defeater of the Prix Marcel Boussac runner-up Titian Time in a conditions stakes at Kempton and a creditable sixth in the Fillies' Mile. At this time of year fitness must be taken on trust but Channon has had three three-year-old winners in the past five weeks.

Umniya, who raced 15 times last year, is fully exposed but Vista Bella (2.15) is certainly not. She made a highly encouraging debut at Lingfield last month, scoring despite inexperience. The colt she beat won next time and provides a tap into some of the best progressive form of the past few weeks. Judging by her homework, Vista Bella herself is going only one way. Time may prove Sheikh Mohammed's home-bred is one who sneaked under the Godolphin radar.

The equivalent colt's race, the Easter Stakes, has yet to produce a victor in any Classic, but also features a trio with lofty aspirations, the 2,000 Guineas entries King's Quay (2.50), Capable Guest and Rebel Rebel. King's Quay, by Montjeu, must carry a penalty for his defeat of subsequent Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Wilko in a Listed race, but should be good enough to beat Tanzani, the sort to improve in his second season.

Britain's richest race today is the Rosebery Stakes, a 10-furlong handicap that takes some quality to win. The ground is drying, but may still have enough give for top-weight St Andrews (3.25), a lightly raced five-year-old who, on this sharp track, should cope with the furthest he has been in anger to give Jarvis a double. Front-running King's Thought, with an all-weather sharpener under his girth, should be considered.

Richest is, of course, a relative term. The Rosebery Stakes has a purse of £50,000; the Dubai World Cup one of $6m. But being the most valuable race on the planet does not guarantee charisma, and today's 10th edition seems an insipid affair, dominated by US horses. The withdrawal of Godolphin's Grand Hombre with a sore foot means that mine hosts cannot muster a runner, and the sole British contender, Jack Sullivan, was last sighted in this country failing to win in Class D at Lingfield.

The name of the favourite, Roses In May, is a pointer towards the excitement surrounding Shamardal as he steps out on dirt for the first time in the UAE Derby. Victory will send the colt to Kentucky as the sixth, and most credible, bearer of the blues' banner in the 131st running of North America's most famous contest.

Ahead of the World Cup in the interest stakes is the Sheema Classic over 12 furlongs on turf. Among the runners is Aidan O'Brien's first in Dubai, Powerscourt, with the new Ballydoyle No 1, Kieren Fallon, in the saddle on the enigmatic five-year-old. With one of Godolphin's high-profile head-hunts, Cherry Mix, in the field, it will be the first locking of horns this year between racing's highest rollers.

Richard Edmondson

Nap: Capable Guest

(Kempton 2.50)

NB: Dancing Lyra

(Kempton 3.25)

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