Gosden's Michita emerges as last minute Oaks hope

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The Independent Online

For its most intense flavours, nostalgia tends to rely on the bittersweet incongruities between then and now. But it was difficult here yesterday to find the necessary contrasts. The downs spread themselves in the sunshine with the same, timeless indolence, and a biplane banked idly towards the aerodrome at the bottom of the hill as John Gosden, wearing his panama hat, stood talking in the winner's enclosure. Even the filly next to him, panting and snorting, seemed to suggest that we might be back in the good old days.

In recent years this meeting has rather surrendered its place in the Epsom itinerary, but there was no mistaking the authenticity of Michita's 11th hour candidature for the Juddmonte Oaks. Making only her third start in the Height Of Fashion Stakes, Michita was in a class of her own, gliding through from the rear in the straight before pounding four and a half lengths clear.

Winner of a Yarmouth maiden last autumn, she had been well beaten on her reappearance at Newbury last month, but proved a radically different proposition on this faster ground.

"She was just a bit full of herself earlier in the year," her trainer explained. "She was not easy to saddle at Newbury, but that run just settled her down and we had a filly to train. She has come on nicely since, her last pieces of work have been very good, and I'd say she has a legitimate each-way chance at Epsom. This is a good place to trial, and with over two weeks to go, there should be a bit more to come from her." Venturing where few others would presume to tread, Gosden reckoned that he can read Jim Bolger's mind well enough to be predict that Lush Lashes will run at Epsom after all. "Jim will find it hard to resist," he grinned. If Bolger does keep his filly at home, however, Michita would surely merit serious consideration in an open race, and she looks fair value at 16-1 with William Hill.

Before she bumped into Lush Lashes at York last week, Gosden had one of the Oaks favourites in Da Re Mi, but he is now steering her towards the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot instead. "She's a tall, leggy filly and that should suit her better," he said. "She's still pretty inexperienced."

Gosden's Newmarket stable was in rampant form during the spring, and has soon emerged from a brief hiatus, with Baby Houseman looking another talented young filly later on the card. In contrast, Gosden's successor at Manton, Brian Meehan, has only just found his stride – a pattern reflected in City Leader, who was coughing after his reappearance failure in the Craven Stakes, but was right back on his game for the David Wilson Homes Cocked Hat Stakes.

True, he only held on by three-quarters of a length from Scintillo after travelling well under Jamie Spencer. "But Jamie said he would hold onto him a bit longer next time," Meehan said. "He won't go to the Derby, the practical plan would be to go for the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. He had a good stretch and blow in the Craven, but gave a couple of coughs afterwards and we gave him a week off.

"He has come back really well, and the horses are really coming to themselves now. I think Manton has been a late-starting yard, historically, but it's a magnificent place to train."

Meehan's slow spring cannot have been helped by the gossips who are always peering into Manton's future, but he has just signed a new contract, and this was his fourth winner since Monday. Happy days, it seems, are here again.

On Alan Ball Memorial Raceday, even the innocence of the ghostly football images on the big screen found an answering, contemporary romance in a local FA Cup success, commemorated in the last race. Unfortunately, it turned out that the Portsmouth players have all gone on holiday, but they have apparently promised to come here and show off their trophy on 13 June.

The halcyon mood did not extend to Ayr yesterday. In an excruciating sequel to a recent debacle at Warwick, racing there was abandoned – 21 minutes after the first race was due off – following the discovery of a patch of false ground near the home turn.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Sleepy Hollow

(Salisbury 8.40)

NB: Icon Project

(Haydock 5.20)