The equivocal performance of St Nicholas Abbey in the season's first Classic very much set the tone for those of his contemporaries who have since joined him on the road to Epsom. Sixth in the 2,000 Guineas was received as a disappointment, on the day, but is increasingly being perceived as the most substantial rehearsal to date for the Investec Derby, over another half-mile.
A corresponding reticence, meanwhile, also seems to be infecting the fillies. Those who cherish the annual cycle of Epsom trials may duly be hoping that both genders have saved the best until last. Workforce, the bookmakers' leading alternative to St Nicholas Abbey, is among six colts declared for the Totesport Dante Stakes tomorrow. The Investec Oaks, meanwhile, may also prove easier to fathom after the two remaining fillies' trials – one at Newbury on Friday, and the other this afternoon, on the opening card of the Dante meeting at York.
Only a really authoritative success in the Tattersalls Musidora Stakes, however, would seem likely to volunteer a possible Oaks winner. And it so happens that the one filly who enters the gate unbeaten would not necessarily do so, even if reaching the post with the same status.
Aviate does not have the stoutest of pedigrees and is by no means certain to stay an extended 10 furlongs today, never mind the extra distance at Epsom. Heavy support before her debut, over a mile at Kempton in November, suggested she had shown plenty of speed at home, and she did so in the race as well. Then, reappearing over the same trip at Ascot last month, she had too much acceleration for a small field going a mild pace to halfway.
The form as it stands is pretty plain, with the runner-up well beaten in a handicap when returning to the same course and distance on Saturday. And automatic respect for her connections – Henry Cecil has won this eight times already – will be heavily factored into the odds.
The same holds true of Eleanora Duse, who is guaranteed to improve for the extra distance but certainly needs to do so, having been beaten off a tame mark on her reappearance at Ripon. Her strong finish that day guaranteed handicap success over middle distances, so it seems safe to say that Sir Michael Stoute would only squander her present rating for a good reason – one that may well become apparent today. For now, however, backers can only be guessing.
Red Fantasy must show that her improved form at Newmarket did not merely reflect proximity to a slow pace, and Pink Symphony that her awkward demeanour at Newbury did not betray a lack of commitment. Gold Bubbles has regressed, while even her trainer describes Cracking Lass as too "timid". That leaves only Cabaret and Bikini Babe.
Cabaret is the most plausible Oaks winner in the field, judged on her rapid progress in three quick runs last summer, but she then disappeared until the autumn when her saddle slipped in a Group One race in Paris. Aidan O'Brien's three-year-olds are beginning to find a better rhythm, but he has indicated that this filly is only just coming to hand and will settle for any kind of positive run today.
With an each-way return for three out of eight runners, the odds against Bikini Babe (2.40) are just too tempting. She was soon overwhelmed against colts last time, but the runner-up has since won the Chester Vase and the winner goes for the Dante tomorrow. On a track that can favour front-runners, she could well get away with an easy lead and she is usefully battle-hardened.
O'Brien saddles a fascinating new recruit in the Duke Of York Blue Square Stakes. Starspangledbanner is another of these Australian speedballs and will surely be primed to explode at Royal Ascot, but today will only be about lighting the fuse. He could be too quick for this lot anyway, but he is unlikely to be given a discouraging introduction to his new environment.
Showcasing will certainly be at home, returning to the scene of his Gimcrack Stakes success last August, but it is notoriously difficult for three-year-olds to measure up to senior sprinters at this stage. Mulliomileanhour (3.10) is duly preferred, as combining scope for further progress with relative maturity.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Full Victory (7.30 Bath) Back down to the same mark as when successful round here 12 months ago, having again shaped well on his reappearance, going strongly before tiring in third.
Forte Dei Marmi (1.40 York) Paid a predictable price for his easy reappearance success, raised 12lbs, and faces an obvious banana-skin in Imposing, but has not approached the limit of his improvement.
One to watch
Our Joe Mac (R A Fahey) Was unlucky at Chester last week, caught wide from his draw but always going sweetly and, having lost impetus when bumped, flying late to force a photo.
Where the money's going
Co-ordinated Cut, who made an impressive debut for his new yard at the Craven meeting, is 100-30 from 4-1 with William Hill for the Totesport Dante Stakes at York tomorrow.