In the same way that pets are said to resemble their masters, it seems that horses trained by Henry Cecil can borrow something of his own character. Certainly the filly who won the big race here yesterday had class, charm and courage; what is more, she offered a quizzical sense of the delicate connection between prolonged, private preparations and these brief moments of public acclaim. In answering one question, that is to say, Aviate only asked several more. As she thrust her head in front, even as the judge's camera clicked, she might as well have tilted it to one side and winked.
Aviate is now unbeaten in three starts and one firm hailed her success in the Tattersalls Musidora Stakes by making her 4-1 favourite for the Investec Oaks – recognising, in the process, that the race had seemed in urgent need of fresh focus. To Cecil himself, however, the Epsom picture had only become more perplexing.
The man who should know – this was his ninth Musidora winner, and he has already won the Oaks eight times – reiterated afterwards that he has long viewed Timepiece, beaten in her own rehearsal at Lingfield last Saturday, as a superior candidate. "On her home work, I thought she was one of the best Oaks prospects I've had since I started training," he confessed. "I don't know what went wrong at Lingfield. It was a funny sort of race, they went very fast and afterwards she did blow in an extraordinary way – hard, but short."
He has had her scoped and found nothing amiss. Both Aviate and Timepiece are owned by his long-standing patron, Prince Khalid Abdullah, and Cecil will make a judgement on what they show him between now and 4 June. "I expect one could run in the French Oaks, or at Royal Ascot, and the other at Epsom," he said. "We'll feel our way. I'm sure they'll both tell me where they should go."
The only certainty is that Cecil's chosen representative will surely run a mighty race at Epsom. For now Totesport keep Rumoush as 6-1 favourite, from Aviate on 8-1 and Timepiece on 10-1.
Previously raced over a mile, Aviate was short of room for much of the straight yesterday and only just ran down Gold Bubbles after Eddie Ahern squeezed her along the rail. Eleanora Duse achieved her mission, gaining third, but Bikini Babe did not see out the race as seemed likely when getting them all off the bridle two out.
Ahern was confident that Aviate would last the extra distance at Epsom, and Cecil was inclined to agree. "I only ran her here to see if she would stay this far," he said. "I thought she probably would, because there's a Nijinsky cross [on either side of her pedigree]. It's difficult to assess. She had nowhere to go for most of the race. She's decent. But we'll see about Epsom. Time will tell."
Cecil returns today with the filly who so nearly won him the Oaks last year, Midday, in the Totesport Middleton Stakes. Her subsequent success at the Breeders' Cup requires Midday to concede 5lb to Sariska, who beat her in a photo at Epsom after herself impressing in the Musidora.
Sariska went on to win the Irish Oaks, as well, and did rather better than was realised at the time when turned over at 4-11 back at the Ebor meeting here. (The winner, Dar Re Mi, has since posted world-class performances in France, California and Dubai.) Her brawny physique entitles Sariska to flourish anew this term, but her connections are eager to see rain and Midday (2.10) is arguably most effective at this trip.
The big race on the card, however, remains the eponymous highlight of the three-day Dante meeting. Here, at last, we should learn whether Workforce – yet another rising star for Abdullah – can match his billing as the leading home candidate for the Investec Derby.
When he won a Goodwood maiden by six lengths last September, Workforce was awarded points for style, but not substance. It seemed a fairly modest race, but then the runner-up turned up at Newmarket and beat 21 rivals for a huge sales bonus. Having shown enough speed to win over seven furlongs round Goodwood, Workforce was at one stage touted for the 2,000 Guineas. But connections resolved to wait for this more traditional Epsom rehearsal, no doubt mindful of the fact that his dam is a sister to a St Leger winner in Brian Boru. As a son of King's Best, it could not be guaranteed that Workforce will get the Derby trip, but today's intermediate distance should prove comfortably within range.
He represents unpalatable value, however, against colts with runs already on the board this spring, in Chabal and Coordinated Cut, and the unbeaten Cape Blanco. The latter's contemporaries at Ballydoyle have not really landed running this spring, so while there may be better times ahead for all these, the preference today is for Chabal. The colt he beat at Sandown, Azmeel, won the Chester Vase last Friday and it should not be forgotten that Chabal (2.40) had the raw ability as a juvenile to fail only by a neck in Group One company just seven days after his debut.
As we saw yesterday, it can be hard to know which is the most valid currency of Classic speculation. For the time being, however, Workforce represents words, and Chabal deeds.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Rio Mist (4.45 Salisbury) Began life in handicaps off a light mark and duly bolted up at Nottingham before a storming finish when up in class off a 9lbs higher mark next time – suggesting that another, smaller rise can be offset by this sixth furlong.
Dubai Bounty (1.55 Salisbury) Unlucky not to get up in a three-way photo at Folkestone last time, round a track where it can be hard to reel in the leaders. Trainer and jockey both in form and this lightly raced filly remains entitled to further improvement.
One to watch
Rule Of Nature (Sir Michael Stoute) Has been unlucky to bump into Horseradish in both starts this spring, but the way she saw off the rest at Chester last week suggests she remains ahead of rivals.
Where the money's going
Showcasing's excellent comeback run at York yesterday prompted Boylesports to cut his Golden Jubilee Stakes odds to 12-1 from 20-1.