It has become fashionable to denigrate the Derby as a fading glory, but statistics say other-wise. Sure, the Nineties were an ordinary decade, with only one truly high-class winner in Generous. But then so were the 20th century's Noughties, Twenties and Forties. The most consistently blessed decades seem to have been the Thirties, which produced Hyperion, Windsor Lad, Bahram, Bois Roussel and Blue Peter, and the Seventies, with Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Grundy, The Minstrel and Troy.
The latest Noughties have already produced three superior winners in Sinndar, Galileo and High Chaparral. And the worth of this year's contest can be judged only in retrospect; the trials eliminate the no-hopers but the standard-bearer for a generation will not be identified until his pace, balance, stamina, acceleration and resolve pass muster over Epsom's switchback mile and a half. Or possibly, her pace, balance and the rest.
Naturally, the Derby, Europe's richest race with a £1.25 million purse, takes centre stage at the two-day meeting. But the Oaks, the premier all-filly Classic, is the more venerable of the pair, older by a year. And though not as often as the colts' race, it has the capacity to produce a real superstar. The winner two years ago, Ouija Board, proved better and more durable than North Light, the Derby hero. She is still competing at the highest level and, ground allowing, will turn out in the Coronation Cup 40 minutes before the 228th Oaks on Friday.
She was the first really good Oaks winner since Balanchine 10 years previously, though. And this year's renewal has an ordinary look to it on paper, with the 1,000 Guineas winner, Speciosa, supplemented yesterday at a cost of £20,000, the only runner to have scored at the top level. But the field is replete with exciting, unexposed, well-bred staying fillies who could be anything.
The long-time favourite has been Alexandrova, but three-year-old distaffers from the Aidan O'Brien stable have largely disappointed. The reverse is true of Sir Michael Stoute's female charges, who have taken four Oaks trials, and Riyalma, like Ouija Board a winner of the Pretty Polly Stakes, and Short Skirt, conqueror of Alexandrova in the Musidora, look sure to acquit themselves well.
Two more serious contenders were added to the fieldfor the £375,000 purse yesterday: the John Dunlop-trained Time On, the Cheshire Oaks winner whose grand-dam Time Charter won in 1982, and Galatee, from Jim Bolger's yard.
Galatee, who is a daughter of the 2001 Derby winner, Galileo, has a sharply upwardly mobile profile - she beat older fillies decisively at the Curragh 12 days ago - and can continue her progress on the greatest stage of all.
3 Short Skirt
4 Time On
Longshot Innocent Air