Thought to halt the progress of Queen's Flight

York May meeting: The favourite for the Oaks is put to the test in today's Musidora Stakes but faces a tough opponent from the Barry Hills camp
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The Independent Online

It may not appear in the Court Circular column of those papers which still bother to print it, but there is one engagement in the Queen's diary for today which is likely to be circled in red ink. Just after 3pm, a filly called Flight Of Fancy will carry the royal colours into the stalls for the Musidora Stakes at York. Two minutes later, her owner should have a pretty shrewd idea of her chances of winning a British Classic for the first time in almost a quarter of a century.

It may not appear in the Court Circular column of those papers which still bother to print it, but there is one engagement in the Queen's diary for today which is likely to be circled in red ink. Just after 3pm, a filly called Flight Of Fancy will carry the royal colours into the stalls for the Musidora Stakes at York. Two minutes later, her owner should have a pretty shrewd idea of her chances of winning a British Classic for the first time in almost a quarter of a century.

It was in 1977, her silver jubilee year, that Dunfermline carried the Queen's ornate purple and scarlet silks to victory in both the Oaks and St Leger, just as British racing was about to experience a revolution. There were no tumbrils or dates with the scaffold, it's true, but the Queen, along with almost every other traditional owner-breeder, was still swept away as first Robert Sangster, and then the Maktoum brothers, took control of the turf. Suddenly, racing was a multinational business, with no place for hobbyists and part-timers.

These days, the royal string amounts to barely a dozen horses ­ there are used-car dealers with more ­ which is a sharp drop even from the 30 or so the Queen kept in training last season. Nor did it help that for many years, it was felt to be politically unwise to send royal mares to Irish-based stallions such as Sadler's Wells.

That policy has changed, and Flight Of Fancy is one of the first, and potentially very impressive, results. By Sadler's Wells out of Phantom Gold, who won the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot, she has been prominent in ante-post betting for Oaks for many months, despite having just a victory in a Salisbury maiden to show for her two outings. In recent weeks, reports of impressive work on Sir Michael Stoute's gallops, not to mention a lack of obvious alternatives, has seen her Classic price contract to 6-1, after which ­ incredibly, given that the Oaks is just 24 days away ­ it is 14-1 bar.

Starting your three-year-old career in the premier Oaks trial as clear favourite for the Classic is quite an assignment for a filly with just two outings in maidens behind her. The first of those, admittedly, was a warm event at Newmarket, in which she finished just a head behind Summer Symphony, who was later runner-up in the Fillies' Mile at Ascot. None the less, Flight Of Fancy has a great deal to prove today against a field which includes some potentially high-class fillies, and she does not look value in either the short or the medium term.

Relish The Thought, who won a Listed event on her debut last autumn, has talent, and Barry Hills, her trainer, has been winning Classic trials on an almost daily basis. Heavenly Whisper won well last time, while Time Away, third in the Pretty Polly Stakes, was supported for the Oaks with Ladbrokes yesterday. Saudia, too, is interesting. Though well beaten when favourite for the Fred Darling Stakes, that was her first outing for almost a year, and she should be much better suited by today's trip.

Like any good trial, the Musidora is as much about the betting afterwards as the betting beforehand. Relish The Thought (3.10) appeals as the runner with the best form and the most room for improvement, but rather than back her to win today, the 25-1 offered by the Tote for the Oaks may be a more rewarding investment.

The remainder of the televised card is made up of robustly competitive handicaps, which need to be treated with respect. It is not hard to make a case for Master Cooper (next best 2.05) after his winning British Flat debut at Newmarket last time, while LORD PROTECTOR (nap 2.35) looks overpriced at Ladbrokes' 14-1, given that in his decent outings as a juvenile he looked sure to improve over the winter. Sixty Seconds (3.40), meanwhile, should go close in the rated handicap after his solid fourth in the Newmarket Stakes.

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