Racing: Oaks ready to fall to Midnight's strike

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The Independent Online
FOR regular readers of the letters column of the Racing Post, one particular theme has become very familiar in recent weeks. In plaintive and increasingly desperate tones, correspondents from every corner of Britain had pleaded with Godolphin to run Cape Verdi, the 1,000 Guineas winner, in the Oaks today rather than supplementing her for the Derby tomorrow. This point was argued, you understand, entirely on the grounds of racing tradition, and of concern for the filly's well-being. Any suggestion that juicy ante- post vouchers for the Oaks were lurking in the letter-writers' desk drawers would be thoroughly outrageous.

The campaign did not succeed, although a special prize for ingenuity (and cheek) goes to the punter who suggested that the bookies might simply shift all ante-post bets on Cape Verdi for the Oaks on to the Derby instead. In fact, Fred Done - yes, the bookmaker who paid out on Manchester United a couple of months ago - has agreed to do just that, but if any of the big players follow suit, expect a flying pig to win the Oaks today by at least 20 lengths.

This is not simply another example of the risks inherent in betting at long-range, but also something which affects backers looking for an interest this morning. The bookmakers have had a considerable result on the Oaks before a single filly has been installed, and the uncertainty over Cape Verdi's destination in recent weeks has also allowed other runners to be shortened on a regular basis. It is not that the value has gone, but rather that there was very little in the first place.

Punters will certainly think twice before backing Bahr, Cape Verdi's stablemate, at the pared-down odds available today. It is true that there was much to admire in her defeat of Midnight Line in the Musidora Stakes at York, but Henry Cecil's filly, who will attempt to give the trainer his third consecutive Oaks today, was the best at the weights.

Trophy Wife has been purchased and entered in today's Classic purely to ensure a good pace, which should also favour Midnight Line rather than Bahr. The latter's connections were confident after the Musidora that the form would be confirmed at Epsom, but it is hard to share their certainty. There are other dangers, too, notably High And Low, who is certain to stay but may lack a turn of foot, and Cloud Castle, who would have finished a clear second to Cape Verdi in the Guineas at Newmarket with any sort of a clear run.

Nor is it possible to rule out Tarascon, who may not have the ideal pedigree for a mile and a half, but was not stopping at the end of her victorious run in the Irish 1,000 Guineas. Jamie Spencer, her young - correction, adolescent - rider may lack first-hand experience of Epsom, but he received instruction from the oldest hand of all, Lester Piggott, when the two of them walked the course yesterday.

Anyone who has not taken a fancy price already - such as the 6-1 available about Midnight Line after the Musidora, or the 10-1 about Cloud Castle which vanished a few days ago - should probably sit this race out. For those who cannot resist, however, the only sensible choice is Midnight Line (4.00).

There is more scope for those seeking value in the Coronation Cup, the second Group One race on the card. Swain, last year's King George winner, is as talented as he is consistent, and came within a mistimed nod of beating Silver Charm in the Dubai World Cup in March. That was a hard race, though, and today's outing is his first since. With the ground not quite as easy as he might like, he is worth avoiding and the one to beat him may be another veteran, Luso (next best 2.45).

The best betting medium of the day is the 17-runner handicap, simply because several horses with an obvious chance on form - Risque Lady and Young Josh among them - are poorly drawn. Of those drawn low, whose advantage can only be compounded by the presence of front-running Shalad'Or in box two, the choice is between Apache Red and GIFT OF GOLD (nap 3.20), with the latter at a more attractive price.

Derby news yesterday concerned Saratoga Springs, who has already veered several times between being a probable starter and an almost definite non-runner. He now seems sure to take his chance, with Willie Ryan, the Derby winner last year on Benny The Dip, in the saddle. The outsider Pegnitz, though, will not be running.

At the other end of the market, Greek Dance continues to shorten, in to 100-30 from 7-2 with William Hill, while Second Empire moved in the opposite direction (3-1 from 9-4) with the same firm. Cape Verdi too is on the drift, out to as much as 5-1 with the Tote.