Pricket to pierce Cecil's ambitions

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While the Epsom mechanics tinker about with the right day for the Derby, the oldest Classic on the Downs has been left to find its own way to the scrapheap.

Edward Gillespie, the director of racing at United Racecourses, has continually informed us that every drop of perspiration his team has lost this year has been shed in an effort to get Derby day right. The Oaks, first run in 1779, has been ignored like a little old lady sitting in a wheelchair in the corner.

Great, great fillies like Oh So Sharp, Sun Princess and Salsabil have won the Classic in the days when it was run on the Saturday after the Wednesday Derby. These days the Oaks is thrown away on a Friday, the afterthought beforehand, little more than an appetiser, a chunk of garlic bread to be tossed around the table.

If this fillies' championship is to regain some meaning it surely has to move to join the Derby and Coronation Cup on a single day's spectacular, be it on a Saturday or (preferably) a Wednesday.

A factor that has helped push the little old lady down Tattenham Hill in recent years has been the Maktoum supremacy. Persistent domination does not make good spectating and the boys from Dubai have won all but one of the last nine Oaks. The Godolphin team is on a hat-trick this afternoon following the successes of Balanchine and Moonshell, who was trained by Henry Cecil before she took her winter sun.

Here we touch on the big selling point of the race. Sheikh Mohammed again goes into battle with another former Cecil-trained horse, Pricket, but this time there is a difference. The two barons of the sport are no longer connected; in fact a huge sword was sliced through the thread that connected them last October when their visions of the future set off to different points of the compass.

If boxing's promotional men had got hold of this one the buckets of glue and brushes would have been attending every spare wall space in Surrey, advertising the Newmarket Assassin against the Emirates Buzzsaw. Bad blood remains.

It seems one of the two must win today. While Mezzogiorno has each-way prospects, especially as Cash Asmussen can be guaranteed not to get there too soon, Pricket, the pride of the Maktoum tribe, and Lady Carla, Cecil's unbeaten filly, have it between them.

The former stablemates possess similar form figures, having won once last season and a second time this. Both have been working well on the Newmarket gallops.

Lady Carla, it must be said, won a Lingfield Oaks trial which was about as physically demanding as an audition for a barbershop quartet, beating three rivals at odds of 4-11.

Pricket's victory in the Pretty Polly Stakes at Headquarters was at the expense of, among others, Magnificient Style, who went on to capture another Oaks trial, York's Musidora Stakes. She was subsequently supplemented for the Classic at a cost of pounds 15,000, but withdrawn yesterday because the ground is too firm. Not all the spendthrifts have been run out of town, it appears.

On the form book Magnificient Style would not have had much chance anyway and as Godolphin have been tempted to elevate Pricket (4.05) to the head of the batch they have brought over this season, she has to be the selection.

As expected, Michael Stoute's Dr Massini was taken out of the Derby at yesterday's 48-hour declaration stage and his booked jockey, Michael Kinane, lost no time in dislodging Willie Ryan on Cecil's second string, Storm Trooper.

Warren Place's No 3, Clever Cliche, was later announced as the mount of Richard Hughes, leaving the luckless Ryan as the forgotten figure of the meeting. Now he knows how the Oaks feels.

Yesterday's results, page 23