The track for all seasons comes to the rescue today, when the Classic trials at Lingfield are switched from a saturated turf course to the adjacent all-weather circuit. And while they duly lose much of their pertinence to Epsom, usually ascribed to the hill, for much the same reason they are arguably rather stronger than in recent years.
Many trainers, after all, will send a horse downhill only once and would sooner wait for Epsom to do so. Several runners, moreover, have been diverted on to this even, congenial surface from the mire at Chester. There is still York next week, of course, where they are giving the official going as soft while expecting sunshine and breezes over the weekend. Bonfire, the leading home fancy for the Investec Derby, was scratched from his intended trial at Chester yesterday and is now likely to run in the Betfred Dante Stakes on Thursday. Then there is the Derrinstown Trial, at Leopardstown tomorrow, which could yet announce an alternative to the hot favourite, Camelot, from his own homeland, albeit it will not be Akeed Mofeed, who misses the race and the Derby with a hock injury. But Lingfield has certainly turned the deluges to its advantage.
An authoritative winner of the Oaks trial, in particular, would be entitled to loosen Aidan O'Brien's overall grip on the Epsom picture. Several in the field have made an excellent start to their careers; too many, in fact, for anyone sensibly to anticipate the limits of their improvement. But Vow (2.40) produced such an extraordinary performance on her debut that she is hardest to resist.
William Haggas started Vow in the same Newbury race he chose last year for Dancing Rain, before she proceeded to win the Oaks. A half-sister by Motivator to Beaten Up and Harris Tweed, both highly accomplished over middle distances for Haggas, she looked hopelessly confused in the early stages and soon had loads to do. But they had gone pretty hard in demanding conditions, and she was able to work through the gears in the straight before storming clear. She is unlikely to get away with anything so dilatory round this sharper course, but should be more clued-up this time and will certainly relish the extra distance.
On the face of it, the Derby trial would seem less likely to produce an Epsom winner, but still brings together some promising colts. Shantaram's form was boosted at Chester this week, while Cavaleiro developed into a likeable sort at two. But Main Sequence (3.10) can put his trainer's new yard on the map, imposing and well-bred as he is, and astutely supervised through the ranks while looking ready for a higher grade.
In Bonfire's absence, the Stobart Barristers Dee Stakes yesterday developed into a rout by one of Camelot's stablemates. It looks very possible that none of his three pursuers coped with the dreadful conditions, but Astrology earned Epsom quotes of 20-1 by pounding 11 lengths clear under Joseph O'Brien. "We went a good gallop the whole way," the young rider said. "He was in front a long time and idling a bit, so I had to give him a few cracks – but he stayed on all the way to the line."
O'Brien proceeded to win the last Group race of the meeting, the Boodles Diamond Ormonde Stakes, from which the likely favourite (Sea Moon) was likewise withdrawn to leave just four runners. O'Brien had ridden Memphis Tennessee very positively as his maiden Derby mount, when fourth at Epsom last year, but showed artful restraint here. After allowing his rivals to play their hand early – and, in the case of Brown Panther, to conspicuously little effect – he then picked up the pieces to go away by four lengths from Vivacious Vivienne. "He's a massive horse and a good mover," O'Brien said. "He'd certainly be a better horse on nicer ground, and you'd like to think he has improved a lot from three to four."
Now unmistakably the No 1 jockey at his father's stable, O'Brien goes to Longchamp tomorrow for the local equivalent of the Guineas meeting. But Up encounters a very smart filly in Beauty Parlour, while Furner's Green finds himself against Dabirsim, the top French juvenile last year, as well as the colt who claimed his unbeaten record in a controversial trial, Dragon Pulse.
Ryan Moore meanwhile takes the mount on Wrote in the Derrinstown Trial. Winner of the Juvenile Turf at the Breeders' Cup last autumn, Wrote has since run third in the UAE Derby. His opponents include Light Heavy, the recent winner of the Ballysax Stakes over course and distance for Jim Bolger.
Back on home soil, the bet of the weekend is Pravda Street at 40-1 for the Betfred Victoria Cup at Ascot today. Hampered when in need of his reappearance, he is just 2lb higher than when beaten barely half a length in a very similar race over course and distance last year – so crowning his rejuvenation for this stable – and adores soft ground. Those seeking a less speculative alternative are recommended Chachamaidee in the opener at Lingfield. She is the class act anyway, but her zesty style could prove especially well served by the transfer to the all-weather.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Pravda Street (3.25 Ascot)
Chachamaidee (2.10 Lingfield)