IF it is the function of a good Classic trial to offer a few firm hints as to how a more important race may turn out, but without giving the game away entirely, then it seems fair to describe today's Musidora Stakes at York as small but perfectly formed.
Cape Verdi, the favourite for the Oaks on 5 June, will go straight to Epsom without another race (if, indeed, she contests the Oaks at all), but the next two horses in the market, Midnight Line and Bahr, form half the field for the feature event on the first afternoon of a new Flat season at York.
A total of four horses may seem like a desperate turn out for a race worth pounds 45,000, since many punters would cheerfully trot around 10 furlongs of the Knavesmire themselves for little more than a tenner or so.
None the less, this is an intriguing event, and all the more so since one of the two obvious contenders, Midnight Line, seems sure to start at very short odds indeed following her eight-length win in the Pretty Polly Stakes at Newmarket on 1,000 Guineas day.
It is not just the distance that Midnight Line put between herself and second place that day, although that was impressive enough, but also the fact that she is trained by Henry Cecil, who has won five of the last 11 runnings of the Musidora, which will persuade punters to reach for some chunky bundles of banknotes this afternoon.
Four of those winners, meanwhile, went on to take the Oaks itself, so victory for the favourite today will see her shrink to within a point or so of Cape Verdi, who is top-priced at 15-8 with the Tote this morning, in the Classic betting.
The shorter the price, however, the greater the need to question a horse's form, and there are at least two worries which remove Midnight Line from consideration as a betting proposition today. The first is the actual merit of her win at Newmarket, given that the opposition was far from outstanding and the time of the race merely reasonable.
The second comes in the handsome form of Bahr herself, who arrives at York unbeaten in her two races as a juvenile. Both successes were recorded in the style of a very promising filly, and while she is making her seasonal debut today, she cannot be far from peak fitness given that the Oaks itself is just three and a half weeks away. It would be no surprise to see Bahr (3.10) overturn the odds laid on Midnight Line, and if the rush for Cecil's filly pushes the price of her main opponent out to near, say, 2-1, she would certainly be worth a bet.
The televised supporting card today is composed of three handicaps, but since these are York handicaps, which always seem that little bit more tractable than those at many other courses, all are worth a second look. The most valuable is the rated stakes for three-year-olds, which includes several whose ability is far from fully exposed, with Sweet Reward (2.35) likely to go well at a fair price. Crystal Falls seems sure to start favourite for the opener after an unlucky second last time out, and with Frankie Dettori on board will certainly go close, but the Italian's great rival Kieren Fallon could frustrate him again on Largesse (next best 2.05).
The sprint too has an obvious favourite in Sheltering Sky, who won in style at Newmarket's Guineas meeting. Again, though, a better alternative may be to scan the remainder, and GEIMHRIUIL (nap 3.40), who was going well in the same race until lack of condition got the better of him, may turn the tables today.
2.05: LARGESSE ran an excellent race to finish five lengths second to Raise A Prince in a competitive 1m 4f handicap at the Newmarket Craven meeting. He looks fairly handicapped on that form and can go one better today. Crystal Falls looks the main danger.
2.35: NAUTICAL STAR justified his trainer's high opinion of him with a short-head victory over Noble Demand in a decent 1m 2f handicap at the Newmarket Craven meeting. This colt is a progressive sort who should be followed. Bawsian, a most consistent type, may pose the most problems.
3.10: MIDNIGHT LINE, who established herself as a decent two-year-old last year, looks better than ever at three judging by the manner in which she humbled some fair rivals by eight lengths and more in the Listed Pretty Polly Stakes over 1m 2f at Newmarket on 1,000 Guineas day recently. Bahr, who created a favourable impression on both her starts as a juvenile, has been heavily backed for the Oaks in recent weeks. Bahr is clearly considered a more than able deputy for stablemate Cape Verdi should the 1,000 Guineas winner be switched to the Derby. She is the obvious danger.
3.40: SHELTERING SKY looked like he had found his forte when beating Hill Magic by a neck in a highly competitive 29-runner handicap over six furlongs at Newmarket on 2,000 Guineas day. He remains leniently treated and can go in again. The Puzzler, who is quite favourably handicapped on his best form, might prove the most potent threat.