If this was supposed to be the preliminary sketch for an Epsom masterpiece, then for now Liber Nauticus remains closer to an oil tanker than a dashing ocean clipper. Nonetheless she finds herself disputing favouritism for the Investec Oaks, bookmakers having taken an indulgent view of the heavy weather she made of her trial here.
Winner of a Goodwood maiden on her sole start at two, Liber Nauticus had retained a prominent place in the Epsom market while others had staked their claim – whether with style, in the case of Secret Gesture at Lingfield, or substance, in Moth's tremendous 1,000 Guineas third. Something pretty striking seemed in order, then, when Liber Nauticus lined up as odds-on favourite for the Tattersalls Musidora Stakes.
In the event, she had to be driven out firmly to see off a filly who had won a Musselburgh handicap, and a Wolverhampton maiden winner whose trainer felt she did not get the trip. Woodland Aria had been travelling much the best as she and Liber Nauticus converged upon a faltering leader 300 yards out. In fairness, the winner had raced freely behind a steady early pace and looked green when asked to close by Ryan Moore, so must be given credit for asserting by a length and a half as her stamina kicked in. Nonetheless a typical Oaks would unfold too quickly for a big filly who takes so much organising, and she will need to be a good deal sharper a fortnight tomorrow. The extra distance will plainly be in her favour, but the rolling track may not.
Moore pronounced himself perfectly satisfied with a filly who "only does enough" and Peter Reynolds, racing manager to Ballymacoll Stud, was similarly upbeat. "It was a bit of a muddling race," he stressed. "She's a bit of a baby and she'll have learnt a lot from today. I don't think we saw all her class." Reynolds said the Oaks was not yet set in stone, pending talks with the filly's trainer, Sir Michael Stoute. Coral were in no doubt, however, cutting her to 7-2 from 5-1, now behind only Secret Gesture on 3-1. Moth is 4-1 and it is 12-1 bar.
Stoute had much to distract him, back in Newmarket, as Telescope recuperates from the setback that ruled him out of his intended Investec Derby rehearsal in the Betfred Dante Stakes on today's card. Highclere Thoroughbreds still remain represented by Greatwood, an 11th-hour withdrawal after the downpours at Lingfield on Saturday. This looks a tougher field, and the shorter distance is not in his favour, either, but he will at least enjoy the long straight. In what looks the strongest trial, it is surely significant that the stable that won four others last week – two at Chester, one apiece at Lingfield and Leopardstown – should have reserved Indian Chief (2.45) as its final card.
Regardless, Greatwood's jockey will be gratified by the change of schedule, having been suspended at Lingfield. Kieren Fallon maintained his fertile spring when winning the biggest prize on the meeting's opening day, the Duke Of York Clipper Logistics Stakes. While Society Rock only scrambled home from Lethal Force, he lacked cover from his wide draw and was also carrying a penalty. As such, his performance can only augur well for his return to his beloved Ascot for the Golden Jubilee Stakes. William Hill go 7-1 from 12-1.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Two For Two (3.15 York)
Hidden Justice (5.00 York)