The second Epsom trial at the York meeting proved a mirror image of the first, each in turn suggesting reflected glories. In both cases, connections of the winner remained adamant that they had a better one at home. On Wednesday, after saddling Aviate to win the Musidora Stakes, Henry Cecil had insisted that Timepiece looked a superior candidate for the Investec Oaks on the gallops. And yesterday Johnny Murtagh dismounted Cape Blanco after the Totesport Dante Stakes to confirm unequivocally that St Nicholas Abbey, beaten on his reappearance in the 2,000 Guineas, is still the outstanding Derby colt at Ballydoyle.
Whether these reflected glories prove flattering remains to be seen. Cape Blanco, like Aviate, had maintained an unbeaten record with authority. But while Totesport duly cut his Epsom odds to 7-2 from 14-1, they also trimmed St Nicholas Abbey to 5-2 from 3-1.
Funnily enough, while St Nicholas Abbey's failure over a mile has necessarily seen him depicted as more of a staying type, this success over 10 furlongs could not stifle reservations over Cape Blanco's stamina for the extra distance in the Derby. Though his sire, Galileo, will clearly help in that respect, his dam is a half-sister to that streak of lightning Paris House, and herself never won beyond five furlongs. It is a pedigree reminiscent of Rip Van Winkle, who ultimately proved most effective over a mile for the stable last year.
Either way, Cape Blanco looks an authentic Group One colt. Always highly regarded last year, when he won all three starts over seven furlongs, he was allowed to start at 9-2 for his reappearance despite facing just four rivals – reflecting disquiet over lack of momentum in the Ballydoyle three-year-olds this spring. But he was always going with gusto before responding purposefully to pressure, drawing over three lengths clear of Workforce.
Workforce had come here as the bookmakers' leading home candidate for Epsom, but inexperience and discomfort on the quick ground together caused him to hang unhappily from the home turn. The impression was exacerbated by the bit slipping through his mouth, but he eventually organised himself sufficiently to wear down Co-ordinated Cut for second close home. Chabal ran deplorably, however, first off the bridle and never threatening to rally. "It's very disappointing as we thought we had a Derby horse," Frankie Dettori said. "It was too bad to be true."
Conditions have palpably inhibited quite a few horses at this meeting. Sir Michael Stoute, trainer of Workforce, felt his colt would prefer easier going and reserved judgement on Epsom. Teddy Grimthorpe, the owner's racing manager, rightly observed that "second in a Group Two on his second start is not a catastrophe by any means".
The winner himself, according to Murtagh, relished the ground – having struggled in softer going on his final start at two. It was alarming, then, to hear rumours that he had returned sore to the racecourse stables. Those supervising the horse played down such suggestions, but the colt was thought to be under official observation before travelling back to Ireland.
Aidan O'Brien himself was not present, but his stable jockey was confident Cape Blanco had run a solid trial. "He'd handle everything Epsom would throw at him," Murtagh said. "He has good temperament and balance, and plenty of speed. I'm not sure about the stamina, but you often need that question mark in your head going to Epsom."
The uncertainty would not extend, however, to his likely mount. Was St Nicholas Abbey still his number one? "Yes," he said firmly. "I haven't been getting them right too often but please God, if the horse who won the Racing Post Trophy shows up, I will this time."
Epsom is meanwhile also on the agenda for Sariska, who made all the running in the Totesport Middleton Stakes, Midday's pursuit proving very awkward on the ground. Even in victory Sariska's jockey, Jamie Spencer, was scathing about the conditions. "There are trials on at this meeting and the ground shouldn't be as firm as that for any racehorse in this day and age," he complained.
Sariska, at any rate, has clearly flourished very much as her physique promised from three to four. Michael Bell, her trainer, will now send her back to the scene of her Oaks success for the Investec Coronation Cup. There is a last chance, incidentally, for the next Oaks winner to announce herself in the Swettenham Stud Fillies' Trial at Newbury today. Highlight of the last day at York, meanwhile, is the Emirates Airline Yorkshire Cup, where Manifest (2.40) can prove himself a rising star.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Murura (6.50 Hamilton) Suggested he can improve past his initial rating when managing second after missing the break last time, and back over another furlong here.
Fortuni (2.10 York) Had just begun to flourish when disappearing last summer and trainer's perseverance commands respect. Could be type to return for the Ebor.
One to watch
Mabuya (P J Makin) Was gelded over the winter and looked much improved at Ffos Las last week, flying close home after being delayed in traffic.
Where the money's going
Akdarena, impressive at Naas on Wednesday evening, is 12-1 from 14-1 with William Hill for the Investec Oaks.