Racing : Verse perfect in Oaks rehearsal

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The Independent Online
It was an afternoon for connoisseurs of the unusual on the Knavesmire yesterday, and not simply because Reams Of Verse sauntered away to win the Musidora Stakes by all of 11 lengths, a margin without precedent in the race's 37-year history. No, the most extraordinary moment came afterwards, when a species which most punters had long believed to be extinct put in a brief, unexpected appearance. Racegoers may one day tell their grandchildren that they were there on the day when a major bookmaker showed a little courage.

It was not, admittedly, quite up to the standard of Horatius on the bridge, but it is still worth noting that while their main competitors offered no better than evens about Reams Of Verse for next month's Oaks after her crushing success, Ladbrokes quoted 7-4, and laid it for the remainder of the day.

To the average backer with a spare pounds 10 note, this might not seem significant, but in terms of the percentages which underpin the odds, it is little different from offering 8-1 when everyone else is showing 3-1. Ladbrokes took the best part of pounds 100,000 before closing the price to 5-4, and in the rush to get on, few punters stopped to ask themselves why a firm which has spent decades accumulating money should suddenly seem so keen to give it away.

In fact, there are at least two reasons why Henry Cecil's filly, his sixth winner of the Musidora in 11 years, might fail to reproduce yesterday's awesome form at Epsom on 6 June. Pedigree experts are suspicious of her sire, the miler Nureyev, and question whether she will stay the extra two furlongs of the Classic, while those with an eye for conformation point out that Reams Of Verse is heavy about the shoulders, and might not enjoy the ups and downs in Surrey, particularly on firm ground.

Cecil, of course, will have none of it. "On pedigree she's not certain to get a mile and a half," the trainer said, "but she's very relaxed and there's every chance she will. She was coughing before the Guineas [in which she was sixth to her stablemate Sleepytime], and that run has really brought her on."

Kieren Fallon, Cecil's stable jockey, was on the winner in the Newmarket Classic, but there is no doubt which saddle he will occupy on Oaks day. "I gave her a blow-out up Warren Hill yesterday," Fallon said, "and it was the most excited I've been all year. It was a fantastic feeling, even more exciting than winning the Guineas. She settles so well and she's really well-balanced, and I can't see why she shouldn't be an Oaks winner."

The Musidora was, in theory, the only Classic trial on the card, but there was also talk of Epsom after the handicap won easily by The Fly. Barry Hills's colt is still among the Derby entries, and though he was not even at the head of the weights yesterday, his trainer is tempted to let him take his chance.

Michael Hills, The Fly's jockey, was riding his 1,000th winner in Britain, but there was less to celebrate in another corner of the weighing room. Royston Ffrench, one of the best apprentices, was left to ponder on a four-day ban for his ride on Zaralaska in the opener, which the stewards considered to be an example of "schooling in public". Luca Cumani, Zaralaska's trainer, also took the blame, and was fined pounds 700. Zaralaska, though, will be pleased with the outcome. He too will have an unexpected holiday - the stewards banned him from racing for 30 days.

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