Soviet Song hits form in time to recapture crown

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Just as on the golf course, so it is in racing. In élite company only an exceptional female can challenge the males and in the horse world, even with the advantage of playing off the red tees, so to speak, not many do.

But one of this sport's recent successful innovations, and one that deserves the highest praise, is the development of a programme to encourage the keeping in training of the best fillies and mares beyond their three-year-old careers. Distaffers now have their own series of inter-generation Group contests as an incentive over and above having a pop at the boys.

At the top level, as well as the Yorkshire Oaks and Nassau Stakes, there are the Pretty Polly, Matron and Sun Chariot Stakes, the Prix d'Astarte, Vermeille and Opera, the Premio Lydia Tesio and, the first of the domestic season, today's Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket. Last year's inaugural Group One running proved thoroughly worthy of the upgrade, providing an epic encounter between four-year-old Soviet Song, who won, and three-year-old Attraction, who lost her unbeaten record.

And although the last-named has not made the rematch, Soviet Song, who went on 12 months ago to become only the seventh filly to beat colts in the Sussex Stakes in half a century, will be defending her crown. She was one of last term's genuine stars and, after she hurt a leg in her final outing and then suffered respiratory infections in the spring, if there is any natural justice her fourth season will be a success.

The daughter of Marju opened her campaign with a defeat against two of today's rivals, Peeress and Sundrop, at Royal Ascot at York 20 days ago. But back at level weights with that run under her girth, better is expected. "I was very glad to have got her onto the track," said trainer James Fanshawe yesterday, "as she had not had the ideal preparation. But she seems to have thrived since that first run, and has been showing a lot more sparkle in her work than before York. I am pleased with her and she is ready to go."

She will have to be, with opposition like today's. Alexander Goldrun, already a Group One winner at the top of her game. Her optimum trip may be further than a mile, though. The score between Peeress and Sundrop, is one-all this term; there were thunderstorms in Newmarket yesterday, however, and Peeress may be the less inconvenienced of the progressive pair by any softening of the ground.

On balance - Divine Proportions apart - the three-year-old filly milers look inferior to their elders. Sentiment wins no races, but superior ability does and judging by her recent homework Soviet Song (3.05) retains hers.

This is the time of year when attention is beginning to sharpen on the youngest generation and those lucky enough to enjoy what must be the sport's most delightful pre-parade ring, in the dappled shade beneath a calming canopy of trees, will do worse than pay close attention to the fillies in the Cherry Hinton Stakes.

Nannina and Queen Of Fire are both taking maiden winners, but may not cope with battle-hardened Salut d'Amour (2.30), who beat all bar flying machine Flashy Wings in the Queen Mary Stakes and looks more than ready for the step up to six furlongs. Her trainer took the race seven years ago with subsequent Guineas runner-up Wannabe Grand.

Ten years ago Alhaarth beat Mark Of Esteem in the seven-furlong maiden and although there has not been a renewal of such gravitas since, talented runners like Dubai Destination, Arkadian Hero, Ekraar, Hazyview, Belenus and Kandidate (first and last 12 months ago) have emerged from its ranks. Giganticus (3.40) can take his first steps along that road today.