On Ladies' Day at any modern race meeting, ladettes and their excesses are generally confined to the bars and grandstands. Here yesterday, though, the woman behaving worst was out on the track. Sariska, hot favourite for the day's centrepiece, the Darley Yorkshire Oaks, caused a wholly unwelcome sensation by standing stock-still as the starting gates opened for the Group One contest, refusing point-blank to race.
Her mulish mood deprived the faithful of one of the showdowns of the season; last year's Oaks winner had been due to clash with her old rival Midday and this year's Epsom heroine Snow Fairy. Midday duly won the battle of the generations with a comprehensive three-length beating of Snow Fairy. But it was a victory with hollow overtones without Sariska in the mix.
Jamie Spencer, the naughty one's rider, looked shattered as he brought his mount back to the unsaddling area. His terse initial view was that "Nobody died and the filly's fine". Any references to cigar advertisements would clearly have been de trop.
Midday had been behind Sariska on the three previous occasions they had met – in the Oaks and Irish version last year, and a lesser race here in the spring – but is currently in the form of her life and her trainer, Henry Cecil, had been keen to see their fourth meeting.
In the race, it briefly crossed the mind of Tom Queally, in Midday's saddle, that the expected challenge was not materialising, but the jockey was never going to become complacent and kept his partner right up to her work until the line was safely crossed. "I wasn't aware that Sariska had stayed in the stalls," he said, "and, although I couldn't see her around me, you never know with Jamie; he could have been sitting right behind me pulling double.
"My filly was always travelling powerfully and, even though it felt like she was doing only a half-speed, she had the others at it soon into the straight. I maybe went to the front a bit early; she's better with a lead for longer and I was sort of waiting for Sariska to come at me. But mine was just oozing class."
Midday's success was compensation for the last-stride defeat of her stablemate Twice Over, who carries the same Khaled Abdullah colours, in Tuesday's Juddmonte International. "The runner-up today is a very good filly," said Cecil, "and it was good to beat her. But it was a shame Sariska didn't race."
If there is to be another meeting between the two top-class four-year-olds, it could be in the Prix Vermeille at Longchamp next month, one of the options pencilled in on both agendas. Midday has the defence of her Breeders' Cup crown in Kentucky as her prime autumn target but, intriguingly, the Arc may also be in the equation, depending on the form and fortunes of Abdullah's other two middle-distance talents Byword and Workforce.
Michael Bell, Sariska's trainer, was as dumbfounded as any here on the Knavesmire. Lady Bamford's homebred had looked superb, had entered the stalls without turning a hair, in her customary blindfold, and had stood patiently as others were loaded.
"She has always had a bit of a quirk," he said, "but then many great fillies do. Maybe she was stood there waiting a bit long and went to sleep. Or maybe it was that the stables are right next to the start; she knows her way round here and she's very cute and clever." She would not, though, be the first of her line to show such recalcitrance. Her half-sister Gull Wing did exactly the same thing in the Park Hill Stakes at Doncaster two years ago.
It is to be hoped today's climax to the four-day meeting – the face-off between another pair of old rivals, the top-class sprinters Starspangledbanner and Equiano, in the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes – is not another anticlimax. The pair won the two Group One races at Royal Ascot, respectively the Golden Jubilee Stakes over six furlongs and King's Stand Stakes over five, and then were subsequently split by only a neck in the July Cup, in Starspanglebanner's favour.
Today's field of 13 runners have won 61 races between them and amassed more than £4.3m in prize-money. Three others are already winners at the highest level, including the gallant gelding Borderlescott, who has recovered from a recent injury to go for a hat-trick in the contest.
The popular veteran should, on his third to Equiano at Royal Ascot when short of his peak, be right there again. But though he would win hearts with victory, minds – in the form of the betting public – perceive Starspangledbanner or Equiano (3.25) as the most likely victors. The last-named can gain his revenge over the minimum trip and those looking for a longer shot might consider the three-year-old filly Rose Blossom, wearing headgear for the first time.
Sue Montgomery's Nap
Jameela Girl (2.05 Sandown) Looked value for the penalty she picked up at Goodwood, where she needed only to be nudged home on her nursery debut and today's stiffer five furlongs should not inconvenience her.
Erdeli (8.05 Salisbury) Scored for the first time when upped in trip at Wolverhampton last week in a boys' race, for which he escapes a penalty. Unexposed as a Flat stayer and due to race off a 12lb higher mark in future.
One to watch
Swift Gift (B J Meehan) Confirmed the promise of two midsummer runs at Ascot with his second spot at Newbury last week.
Where the money's going
Rewilding, winner of Tuesday's Great Voltigeur Stakes, has shortened to 7-4 favourite for the St Leger with Hills. Snow Fairy remains at 6-1.
Chris McGrath's Nap
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