Pearl fit for milers' crown

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The Independent Online
Racing

JOHN COBB

The Ascot Festival meeting may have shed its pretensions of staging Europe's version of Breeders' Cup day, but it fulfils an arguably more important role today when it holds the deciding contest for the miling crown of Europe. Ridgewood Pearl and Bahri, the winners of the Group One races over this course and distance at the royal meeting, meet for the first time.

The two have rather different backgrounds, with Bahri representing the might of Hamdan Al Maktoum's racing empire that has walked off with this prize in two of the last three years, while Ridgewood Pearl carries the colours of Irish owner-breeders Sean and Anne Coughlan, who are rarely players on the international stage.

The filly has one heavyweight player on her side, though. John Murtagh, her jockey, fights a one-sided battle with the scales and will have to sweat hard to get down to the 8st 8lb that Ridgewood Pearl is set to carry today. Willie Carson, the lightest of the top riders at 7st 12lb, will have the advantage in strength that a full stomach brings should the race come down to a power surge to the line.

The betting does not suggest that is a likely outcome with Ridgewood Pearl (4.05) commanding the head of the list at odds of around 1-2, Bahri on 5-2 and the other runners deemed likely to leave the spotlight to the leading duo and priced at 12-1 or more.

The favourite's position is partly due to the good sense of her trainer, John Oxx, who refused to risk the filly on the well-cooked turf of summer and did not reintroduce her until conditions were more suitable at Longchamp three weeks ago.

Bahri, meanwhile, has had his limitations exposed behind Sayyedati at Goodwood, where he lacked sufficient speed, and behind Halling over a further 525 yards at York where he lacked sufficient stamina.

One possibility that can be dismissed is that Bahri's pacemaker, Muhab, a 200-1 chance, can emulate Maroof last year and refuse to be beaten by his better-fancied team-mate.

Maroof's half-brother, Mawwal (2.50) can maintain family honour -his own as well as that of the Maktoums -in the Royal Lodge Stakes. The colt displayed great improvement when showing a more relaxed attitude last time and can hold off the enormous Bijou D'Inde.

This is the race that Henry Cecil had hoped to win with Mark Of Esteem, who has instead been taken from his care in order to winter in Dubai. Victory here for Mons would rub Cecil's nose in the dirt as the only horse to have beaten Luca Cumani's charge is Allied Forces, another former Cecil inmate heading for the sun.

It is indicative of Cecil's faltering fortunes that without Mark Of Esteem he cannot come up with a single contender for today's prestigious card. Tomorrow's televised card at the Berkshire course should bring some relief as Bosra Sham, the Cecil-trained favourite for next year's 1,000 Guineas, is likely to win the Group One Fillies' Mile.

Richard Edmondson's Sunday Nap: Inquisitor (Ascot 5.20); NB: Rouge Rancon (Ascot 4.45).

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