Racing: Cecil seeks the white horse for Epsom

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The Independent Online
BEFORE breakfast yesterday Henry Cecil, in casual early-morning mode astride his white hack, watched as his Epsom candidates Midnight Line and Sadian went through their paces on the Limekilns gallops. Shortly after lunch, dapper in Guccis and shades, he welcomed Laurentide into the winners' enclosure to confirm the well-being of his Warren Place string.

Midnight Line may not have many more rivals in Friday's Oaks than accompanied her in her pleasing spin on the Round Gallop with Jibe, Golden Dice and Moratorium. The big-race field may be one of the smallest in living memory after only nine stood their ground at yesterday's five-day acceptance stage. Cape Verdi's name remained on the list but she was, as expected, supplemented for the Derby at a cost of pounds 75,000 during the afternoon and the Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford confirmed that the Saturday race was her prime target. "Absolutely," he said, "the Derby is the one. We have left her in the Oaks only as a precaution. There is still a week to go and anything could happen."

The most frugal Oaks in recent years was the 1992 running, when User Friendly beat six rivals. Back in 1891 only six took part.

Cecil expressed himself delighted that the services of French-trained Trophy Wife as pacemaker to Midnight Line, narrowly beaten by favourite Bahr in the Musidora Stakes, had been seconded. "She had to make her own running at York, and she was not concentrating at all, she kept looking at the camera car following the race on the infield," he said. "There would have been no point in being hard on her in front, that's the way to sour them. It was only when the other filly came to her that she began to race and she'll be very different with a lead."

Sadian, a close second to High-Rise in the Lingfield trial, went nicely with the Newbury winner Eaton Square. Cecil added: "He's tough, he stays and he's done nothing wrong so far."

Laurentide, a promising young stayer but with nothing like the brilliance of his brother St Jovite, battled well to regain the lead after being headed by Lucayan Spring in the opening Milton Park Maiden Stakes, and is a possible for the Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot next month.

With the Derby just six days away only fine-tuning remains for the contenders. Greek Dance stretched out ahead of his two companions on the Trial Ground with Walter Swinburn keeping the likeable, but rather idle and relatively inexperienced colt up to his work, and across town on the Watered Gallop alongside the racecourse Olivier Peslier acquainted himself with High- Rise in a workout that brought a smile to the Frenchman's face.

It was a year ago yesterday that Cape Verdi made a winning debut in the Snailwell Stud Maiden. In this year's edition David Loder's association with Godolphin two-year-olds began in Agreeable style when the muscular Zafonic colt of that name inched home from Emily's Luck Charm, with Frankie Dettori's powers of persuasion seen at their best. Loder said: "The horse is a boy in man's clothing - he was gawping at every shadow - but this will have done him a power of good."

Michael Hills, on fourth-placed Hishmah, was suspended for two days (8- 9 June) for minor riding infringements. In the following Coral Sprint Handicap Neil Pollard was lucky to avoid a longer spell on the sidelines when, just as he was challenging for the lead on Hill Magic a furlong out, he shot out the side door and on to the ground at nearly 40 mph as his saddle slipped sideways. The following horses somehow missed him as he lay inert - Blue Kite hurdled the body - and although taken to the weighing-room in an ambulance he escaped with a bruised leg and cut lip.

The 1,000 Guineas form has been knocked by some as unreliable, with subsequent defeats for Shahtoush and Cloud Castle, but the performance of Asharaakat in the Charlotte Fillies' Stakes should help do away with such gloomy thoughts. Back over six furlongs the John Dunlop-trained daughter of Danzig jumped out of the stalls in front and ran clean away from Desert Lady. She looks a high-class sprint prospect.