Racing: Bonny outlook amid the rain

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The Independent Online
LUCA CUMANI's Newmarket stable today strides - or maybe that should be paddles - into its most fertile territory of the season for the Ascot September meeting, which culminates on Saturday with the Festival of British Racing. Anybody expecting the annual annexation of the Blue Seal Stakes on day one, though, ought to suspend their respect for tradition.

Will Cumani win this trial of promising two-year-old fillies for the umpteenth year? 'Don't think so,' he said yesterday. 'If what I hear is correct then Henry Cecil's runner (Felucca) is unbeatable. We've done our bit for the Blue Seal Stakes, so it might be time we became spectators.'

Cumani fields Queen's View against Felucca this afternoon (this is emphatically not a race to bet on), but more prominent in his mind will be the greater challenges of autumn faced by Bonny Scot, Second Set and Cunning. The first of those contests the Cumberland Lodge Stakes this afternoon while Second Set, despite his abhorrence of soft ground, is still a possible runner in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Saturday.

Bonny Scot, remember, was outclassed and outgalloped when third to User Friendly in the St Leger. Though two of racing's most consistent sluggers, Opera House and Sapience, are in opposition today, Cumani says the return to a mile and a half from the St Leger distance will 'definitely' suit Bonny Scot. 'If anything,' Cumani said from a Newmarket fretting on the weather reports, 'I'm looking forward to running him over a mile and a quarter. He's come out of the St Leger in good form.'

Each and every race at Ascot will depend on how much muck the skies unload over the next three days. 'It's filthy at Newmarket, but more importantly I hear there's been two and a half inches of rain at Ascot,' Cumani said. 'I'll see what the ground is tomorrow before deciding about Second Set, but all I know is that he's extremely well and I'll be wanting to run as much as possible.'

Cunning has emerged from left field, as the Americans say, to become a prime candidate for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, though as yet she has not been confirmed a runner. The evidence of her close second to Dancing Brave's sister, Jolypha, in the Prix Vermeille at Longchamp suggests that she has only to stay in one piece to make the journey, not least because late-developing three-year-old fillies have such a good record in the Arc.

'She hasn't done any serious work since she ran in France but she's in good form,' Cumani said. 'Ground permitting, she'll work on Saturday and then we'll decide where she goes.'

For committed Cumani watchers aware of how well the stable performs on Festival day, the yard is preparing six contenders: Field Of Honour (Festival Handicap), Second Set (Queen Elizabeth II), Duke Of Eurolink, Laburnum, Kiveton Kabooz (all Krug Trophy) and Lost Soldier (Royal Lodge Stakes). Laburnum was again heavily backed with William Hill for his race yesterday and is now 5-1 joint-favourite with the John Gosden-trained Anna Of Saxony.

Heavy betting today will consign many punters to the pain of self-loathing as form lines become entangled with meteorological bulletins. A horse who should win whatever the conditions is TALB (nap 2.00), who is progressing fast and should find these seven furlongs the ideal stroll (Fraam, possibly his main rival, won in a decidedly slow time on his debut at Goodwood).

The absence of Environment Friend and Zinaad from the Cumberland Lodge Stakes deprives the race of much of its substance, but that will not trouble the owners of Bonny Scot (3.05) who can step profitably out of User Friendly's shadow by beating Opera House. Aude La Belle (4.10) and Croft Valley (next best 2.30) should pay for a pair of marsh-stilts.

(Photograph omitted)