The hundreds of millions of pounds which Sheikh Mohammed has invested in racing over the last 17 years have put most of the major trophies on his mantlepiece, but the sport's foremost owner has not even been close in the Epsom Classic which matters above all others. It must add to the Sheikh's frustration that Yeltsin, one of his last remaining hopes of laying the Derby jinx this year, is reckoned to be no more than Henry Cecil's fourth-string after the Khalid Abdullah-owned trio of Tenby, Armiger and Commander In Chief.
With just three races behind him, Yeltsin is certainly likely to improve on his flimsy form to date, but with less than a month left before the premier Classic, he needs to start doing so very soon. An impressive success in today's contest, which was the stepping stone for Epsom winners such as Kahyasi, Slip Anchor and Teenoso, is the minimum requirement if he is to even make it to the stalls on the first Wednesday in June.
'This is a good race for him, he came through well on his debut (behind Placerville) but just got bogged down near the end,' Cecil said earlier this week. 'I think he is an improving horse so this race will tell us a lot about him. Time will tell.'
Azzilfi (2.45) may tell Cecil to redirect Yeltsin's path towards more humble engagements than Epsom. John Dunlop's colt has been brought along steadily, but the form of his win in a conditions event at Nottingham on his seasonal debut is more than equal to anything achieved by many of today's rivals.
Oakmead will be a strong fancy in the Oaks Trial, having run well behind Commander In Chief at Newmarket last Saturday, but the subsequent comments of her trainer, Peter Chapple-Hyam, implied that she is far from the best performer in his yard. Preference is for Dancing Prize (2.15) who ran another of today's rivals, Talented, close at Sandown last month. Talented struggled to negotiate the smooth final bend that day, so how she will cope with Lingfield's razor-sharp home turn is anyone's guess.
Able Choice (1.45) has sufficient improvement in him to beat a competitive field in the opener, while LADY SABO (nap 3.15) has a much better draw today than when running at Thirsk last time and can confirm the promise of her seasonal debut.
The Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2,000 Guineas) at Longchamp tomorrow is the highlight of a busy weekend abroad. Kingmambo, the only horse to beat Zafonic, is among the 10 runners, while Ben Hanbury's Bin Ajwaad, third to that colt in our own 2,000 Guineas last Saturday, leads the English challenge along with Firm Pledge (Paul Cole) and Tinners Way (John Gosden). The latter can bring the prize back to Newmarket, while Colway Rock (Bill Watts) can be another successful raider in the German 2,000 Guineas) at Cologne.Reuse content