The country's best mare, Midday, is to take on the boys in next week's International at York rather than go for the softer option of a Yorkshire Oaks double against her own sex the following day. Both she and her Sir Henry Cecil stablemate Twice Over will contest the ten-furlong feature, giving their owner Khalid Abdullah two chances of a first victory in the Group One prize sponsored by his Juddmonte bloodstock brand for the past 22 years.
The bold plan was revealed after Midday sparkled in her work alongside fellow top-level winner Timepiece on the Newmarket gallops yesterday morning. She and Twice Over exercised on the watered strip alongside the Rowley Mile racecourse, the mare under Shane Fetherstonhaugh, her regular rider at home, and Twice Over ridden by Ian Mongan, who will partner him at York next Wednesday.
"Midday will be left in the Yorkshire Oaks," said Abdullah's racing manager Teddy Grimthorpe after the session, "but she is an intended runner in the Juddmonte. The plan is to run her and Twice Over. She won the Yorkshire Oaks last year and it's a wonderful race but obviously to win the Juddmonte would be important for us."
The daughter of Oasis Dream has won six of her 12 outings in Group or Grade One company, most recently when she took an unprecedented third Nassau Stakes at Goodwood 11 days ago. On her only try against colts at that level, in the Coronation Cup in June, she beat all bar St Nicholas Abbey. With Tom Queally on board, she will carry the Abdullah first colours in her bid to become the sixth female winner of one of the season's key middle-distance prizes, after Dahlia, Cormorant Wood, Triptych, In The Groove and most recently One So Wonderful in 1998.
Twice Over, winner of three Group Ones, produced one of his best performances as runner-up in last year's International, when he and his fellow Abdullah colour-bearer Byword were edged out by Rip Van Winkle, and returned to winning form in a lesser contest on the Knavesmire last month.
The initial entry of 20 is not due to undergo its first pruning until tomorrow, when the opening betting market will be formed, but one bookmaker, Paddy Power, indicated that Midday would be second choice behind the Ballydoyle raider Await The Dawn.
In the Yorkshire Oaks Cecil will rely on the upwardly-mobile Vita Nova as he goes for a fifth success in the 12-furlong race, the second of the meeting's Group One events. The Galileo four-year-old would almost certainly have won the Lancashire Oaks at Haydock last time out had not her saddle slipped sideways, forcing Queally to ride the final furlong without irons.
"She was unlucky," said Cecil yesterday, "and has been going nicely at home since. With a little cut in the ground she could run very well next week."
It is some months yet until the best jumpers start to reappear, but one of the most charismatic of them all, Kauto Star, has at least started his road towards an eighth season with Paul Nicholls after his summer break. But owner Clive Smith has warned that the 11-year-old, winner of four King George VI Chases and two Gold Cups but last seen pulling up at Punchestown in May, will not be risked on the track again if further cracks begin to show.
"He'll go into light training," he said yesterday, "and if he shows the right signs, we'll look for a race for him. But he certainly won't be pushed too far, and if he gives any sort of sign that he's had enough then we'll retire him straight away."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Mashaaref (2.50 Newmarket) Has risen in the ratings after his second place in better company at Ascot last month but there is likely more to come.
Xpres Maite (5.00 Beverley) Has not won for more than two years but this genuine type is worth a chance in a poor contest.
One to watch
Rock Supreme (Michael Dods) Is well-related and well-entered and won his maiden nicely last month.
Where the money's going
Cape Blanco is Ladbroke's 7-4 favourite for Saturday's Arlington Million in Chicago, with Aidan O'Brien stablemate Treasure Beach 6-4 for the Secretariat Stakes on the same card.