Racing: Cecil buoyant over All At Sea: Paul Hayward expects the International favourite to be swept aside on the opening day of York's Ebor meeting

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YORK's claim to be Royal Ascot without the hair shirts and character-corsets is triumphantly restated this afternoon when the Derby winner meets the 2,000 Guineas winner meets the most commendable filly in training for the pounds 200,000 International Stakes. Having your soul surgically removed at the admission gates is thankfully not a prerequisite for watching arguably the trickiest middle-distance race in the calendar.

Tricky because this flat, even-tempo voyage of late summer falls midway between the early shelling out of fame to horses like Dr Devious and Rodrigo De Triano and the great tests of autumn, which so often expose the Derby horses and spring swallows. Yorkshire's best race (the St Leger aside) brought Brigadier Gerard's only defeat, Grundy's demise and a rare reverse for Oh So Sharp, the 1985 fillies' Triple Crown winner.

Logic dictates that Kooyonga is a short-priced favourite to add to her win in the Eclipse Stakes and earn yet more credit for her speed and resolution, but then as the said examples demonstrate, logic, like the population of Paris, is often not to be found in mid-August. While we are suspending normal modes of thought, it might be as well to take a tip from a man who never bets.

Namely, Henry Cecil. One of the privileges of being Britain's leading trainer is not having to gamble to entertain dreams of a life free from wage-slavery and trivial obligations, and yet Cecil says that if he did have a credit account with the bookmakers, with its shiny 0800 card and suggestions of unthinkable riches, he might just risk a pound or two on his ALL AT SEA (nap 3.10) today.

'I might have a quid on her,' were Cecil's exact words (if he could find a bookmaker who did not shout abuse at being offered such a bet, it would be his duty to inform all first-time racegoers). The reason for this unusual assertiveness is that All At Sea has been working even harder than the debt collectors in Newmarket, and has benefited hugely from the softening of the ground.

Admittedly, there are six Group One winners among the 12 contestants and All At Sea is not one of them. What she is, though, is a filly with the conditions in her favour, good home form and an attractive position in the market. Certainly those who believe Kooyonga is beatable and that Dr Devious and Rodrigo De Triano have something to prove (or re-prove) will be looking for each-way alternatives in this thoroughly taxing equation.

The two Classic winners, of course, deserve more than a cursory mention from the short-memory club, to which anyone who cannot forgive a good horse the odd defeat deserves free membership. Defeat is perhaps the wrong description of Dr Devious's failure behind St Jovite in the Irish Derby - he was not so much beaten as abolished - and though there are few who would back him to beat Ireland's finest ever again, it is worth witholding judgement until we see whether Dr Devious can recapture the form he showed at Epsom.

Tackling the Derbys of America, Britain and Ireland in a two- month period, as this narrow but dependable runner did, always looked an optimistic project, especially as Peter Chapple-Hyam's string was in a viral haze when Dr Devious travelled to The Curragh. More discouraging than his most recent appearance, however, are the less than intoxicating reports about Dr Devious's homework in the approach to this race.

Rodrigo De Triano presents a different puzzle. He is a supposed miler who took no active part in the Derby - thus spoiling a thousand Piggott profiles - before runnning wide and late in the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot. That was the day, remember, when Robert Sangster, the horse's owner, could not bring himself to go down to the unsaddling enclosure lest he said something unkind to his ageing jockey. Rodrigo De Triano might be back to his best, but you cannot, definitely cannot, be certain.

Which leaves a group of distinguished others: Terimon, last year's winner but probably not good enough here; Ruby Tiger, tough but short of the necessary class; Masad, improving but with plenty to prove, like Seattle Rhyme. If there is another appealing each-way bet in this pack then it is Alnasr Alwasheek, winner of the Craven and Dante Stakes (the latter over this course and distance) and a horse of considerable, though inconsistent, ability.

So incessant is racing in this country that Yorkshire warms up for its most famous event just 35 minutes after staging its second most illustrious. The Great Voltigeur Stakes is a St Leger trial, and though Bonny Scot and Assessor have long been thought ideal candidates for Doncaster, Sonus (3.45) may be a better shot for any Henry Cecils betting in beer money.