Grain to go against Aqaarid

RACING: Michael Stoute sows the seeds of an Oaks challenge with a fillywhose cherry and black colours stir memories of another time
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The Independent Online
There were distinct strands of grey in Pure Grain's bay tail as she paraded before the Musidora Stakes here yesterday. Fifteen minutes later, the hair of those punters who had backed her down to evens suddenly started to go the same way.

Their money seemed as good as banked two furlongs out when Pure Grain, barely out of a trot, swept past Musetta with the only doubt being whether her margin of victory would be closer to five lengths or 10. Pat Eddery, however, begged to differ. Happy to sit off the pace on Caramba through the first mile, the former champion now appeared at Pure Grain's quarters, and the favourite found herself in an unexpected fight.

But that, as Michael Stoute explained afterwards, is just how she likes it. "She loves a battle," the trainer said, "and when the second came at her she really got down and lengthened." And if Pure Grain's eventual winning distance, a single length, was hardly the procession which had seemed likely just seconds before, the manner of her success was in some ways more satisfactory. Her next outing, after all, will be in the Oaks, and there would be little point in going to Epsom if Pure Grain did not have the stomach for a scrap.

Stoute's filly is now no better than 10-1 (from 12-1) with William Hill for the Classic on 9 June, and with both Coral and Ladbrokes going three points shorter, that price may not last until midday. The same firm offers 14-1 about Caramba (from 33-1), but while some may believe that yesterday's experience might help her to overcome Pure Grain in a rematch (it was just the second outing for Lemon Souffle's half-sister), Stoute is convinced that his runner too has improvement to come.

"The trip will suit her and she'll go round Epsom well," he said. "She's definitely a staying filly. Her dam won over a mile and three-quarters and her second dam won the Park Hill." A more romantic omen is in her favour too: Pure Grain bears the cherry and black colours which Time Charter carried to success in the 1982 Oaks.

And if it is difficult to decide between yesterday's principals for the Classic in just over three weeks' time, it is harder to deny that both must currently represent excellent each-way value. The traditionally weak Lupe Stakes at Goodwood is the only Oaks trial yet to be run, but the current ante-post betting is 33-1 bar four (Aqaarid and Moonshell, second and third to Harayir in the 1,000 Guineas, are firmly barricaded into the first two places in the market). Surely either Pure Grain or Caramba - or quite possibly both - will make the frame at Epsom.

Further down the field yesterday, Brett Doyle, Musetta's jockey, received a five-day ban, from 25 May, for causing interference to (or more coloquially, cutting up) Sparrowhawk.

A more commendable example of the rider's art was provided by Alex Greaves, who persuaded Venture Capitalist to repel the late challenge of Branston Abby just long enough to claim the spoils in the sprint handicap.

When Greaves took the Lincoln on Amenable in 1991, there was hope that she might leave the patronising "Queen of Southwell" tag behind and carve out more success among the senior male riders. Somewhat predictably, it did not happen, and Greaves is still struggling for opportunities even though, as yesterday's performance showed, her strength and judgement are a match for many of her more established colleagues.

David Nicholls, Venture Capitalist's trainer, was enjoying his most valuable success on the sidelines, though many backers will recall him holding the reins on Peter Savill's prolific sprinter, Chaplin's Club. The Stewards' Cup at Goodwood in July is already inked in as Venture Capitalist's principal target.

In the more immediate future, two worthwhile pointers emerged yesterday. Desert Tiger, making her debut in the opener, showed embarrassing inexperience through the first three furlongs but ran on strongly into third as soon as she realised what was required. At the other end of the card, Dahik was Dick Hern's fifth winner in a fortnight. For the moment, if the initials on the saddlecloth are WRH, back it pdq.