Racing: Zahrat zooms to head of Oaks betting

York May meeting: Godolphin go into today's Dante on a high after flying filly runs away with the Musidora Stakes
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The Independent Online
ZAHRAT DUBAI was not even back in her box after a five-length joyride in the Musidora Stakes here yesterday before the paddock pundits were trying to find something, anything which might count against her in the Oaks at Epsom in three weeks' time.

Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, fielded most of the suggestions. Pedigree? No problem. The track? Ditto. Temperament? Well, hopefully not. By the end of the inquisition, Zahrat Dubai was the 2-1 favourite for the Classic and no-one had found a serious hole in her prospects.

This was a shame for Darryll Holland, because at that very moment, he was looking for a hole to crawl into. Just 24 hours earlier, Holland had left Portman Square a chastened but relatively happy man. A disciplinary hearing, triggered by a series of riding offences, had just banned him for 21 days, but suspended the final six until September to encourage good behaviour.

This would have allowed Holland to ride in the Oaks and Derby on 4 and 5 June, and so if there was ever a day for a jockey to keep his head down and his nose clean, yesterday was surely it. So what did Holland do on Now Look Here in the second race? He cut sharply across the field from a wide position as they turned for home. At least two of the runners on his inside were impeded, and on another day one of them might have fallen.

It was careless riding, beyond any dispute, and a near-identical offence to the one which started Holland's downward spiral of suspensions in the first place. The stewards did not hesitate to activate the suspended six- day sentence, and then added another four days of their own. Holland, who starts a separate six-day ban tomorrow, will not see a British racecourse until the second day at Royal Ascot on 16 June. If he decides to watch the Epsom Classics in his living room, he is unlikely to be disturbed by a knock at the front door from Mensa.

In terms of the Oaks at least, though, he would probably have been wasting his time anyway. The Musidora Stakes has not been the most reliable Oaks trial in recent years, but Zahrat Dubai was an immensely impressive winner. Had it not been for a performance of similar authority by Henry Cecil's Ramruma in the Oaks Trial at Lingfield four days ago, she would already be an odds-on chance for Epsom.

``She's got a lot of talent,'' Crisford said, somewhat unnecessarily. ``We're confident she'll get a mile and a half, and Mick Kinane [who replaced the suspended Frankie Dettori] is confident she'll get the trip too. `She was drawn on the wrong side of the track first time out last year, but in her trial over a mile in Dubai, she was doing all her best work at the finish. We knew that once we put her over a trip, she would be very good.''

The only doubt in Crisford's mind is whether Zahrat Dubai's temperament will stand up to the demands of a Classic afternoon at Epsom. He said: ``The one little problem would be that she does have a nervy temperament, but hopefully she'll be relaxed on Oaks day. She will take all the beating.''

There will be no temptation, though, to retrace their steps of 12 months ago, when Godolphin sent Cape Verdi, their 1,000 Guineas winner, on a brave but ill-fated attempt on the Derby. ``We tried it last year, and this time we'll stick to the Oaks,'' Crisford said, which is good news for ante-post backers in both events.

No Classic can ever be a two-horse race, and as Shahtoush demonstrated when she beat Bahr, the favourite, last year, even Godolphin blue sometimes finishes second. Yet there was something irresistible about the way Zahrat Dubai quickened at the two-furlong pole yesterday, and Mother Of Pearl and Barafamy behind in half a dozen strides.

Ramruma seems to be the only danger to a repeat performance at Epsom next month. Some punters may cast their minds back three years, to the day when Pricket was the Oaks favourite for Godolphin, and Henry Cecil saddled Lady Carla, another Lingfield Oaks Trial winner, who took it up three out and won as she pleased. The same leading players will take the stage in a little over three weeks' time, but this time the final reel will surely have a script to suit Sheikh Mohammed.

OAKS (Epsom, Friday, 3 June): William Hill: 7-4 Zahrat Dubai (from 10- 1), 5-1 Ramruma (from 7-2), 8-1 Claxon, 12-1 Edabiya, 14-1 La Sylphide (from 12-1), 16-1 Sunday Picnic (from 14-1), 20-1 Alabaq, Sunspangled, 25-1 Carambola, Etizaaz, Hula Angel, Mother Of Pearl, Saytarra, Samoa, Subito, Valentine Girl, 33-1 Barafamy, Bountiful Lady, Calando, Crystal Downs, Dazzling Park, Dinner Time, Easy To Love, Eden, Fairy Queen, Fatina, Kareymah, Kilting, Mouriyana, Noushkey, Oriental Fashion, Out Of Reach, Sabotiere, Social Scene, Subeen, Sunday Picnic, Wild Heaven, Wishah, 40- 1 others