Rain threatens Stars parade

Trainer Oxx sounds note of caution over plans to run colt in Juddmonte Stakes

A damp squib is a relative prospect for the management at York as they approach the anniversary of that last, excruciating attempt to stage a race meeting on what proved, pretty literally, to be antediluvian drainage.

This time, rain before Tuesday would make the absence of one horse, even one as special as Sea The Stars, a palatable alternative to the loss of all four days of the Ebor meeting last year.

Heavy investment in the track was scheduled even before that extraordinary deluge last summer, and the chief executive believes that it has since been transformed. "The course looks fabulous, and has a dense covering of grass," William Derby said yesterday. "You wouldn't even know that we have been racing on it. There is pent-up enthusiasm for the meeting after what happened last year and the fabulous horses we are going to see are the icing on the cake."

Sadly, however, the most fabulous of the lot is not certain to contest the 10 furlong Juddmonte International Stakes on the opening day. Though the ground is officially good to firm in places, and a band of rain is likely to clear York over the weekend, John Oxx is already sounding much as he did before scratching Sea The Stars from his home Derby, at the Curragh.

"If all the forecast rain arrives, then it will be soft on Sunday in my opinion," Oxx said. "There is a big question mark about Tuesday. The rain could miss York but if it doesn't we will have a tricky decision on Sunday morning. The forecast looks quite good for Monday and Tuesday, but trainers do not like these 'will I, won't I?' decisions. He needs good, fast ground and not good, slow ground – he really does feel the difference."

Characteristically, Oxx apologised for being so "boring" about the colt's predilections but Sir Michael Stoute will no doubt find his vacillations quite fascinating. Stoute accounts for two of the other seven acceptors, Tartan Bearer and Doctor Fremantle. "They will need to be at their very best but I am happy to throw them into the ring," he said. "I do believe Tartan Bearer is best over a mile and a half, but he is entitled to go for the International. He won the Dante at York. I believe he is as good as ever, and he will prove it by the end of the year."

Apart from Sea The Stars, the only other Group One winners are Mastercraftsman, stepping up in trip, and Casual Conquest, also engaged at the Curragh on Sunday and only likely to enter the York equation should soft ground drive the favourite away.

In Confront, meanwhile, Stoute has the one to beat in the Totesport Sovereign Stakes, a Group Three contest, at Salisbury today, though Laa Rayb is resurgent after that big handicap win at Goodwood. Laa Rayb is a son of Storm Cat who has now been retired – a fact that no doubt encouraged Sheikh Mohammed, crowning his contribution to a dramatic sale, to spend $2.8m for one of the champion stallion's last colts at Saratoga on Tuesday night.

Turf account: Chris McGrath


Magic Lantern (2.30 Salisbury) Can maintain her stable's prolific run after showing the benefit of her debut last time, pulling six lengths clear of the third behind a filly who has since been placed in Group company. She travelled well that day and is ready to embellish a very useful pedigree.

*Next best

Primaeval (3.05 Salisbury) Shaped nicely when second on his debut at Doncaster and three of his four rivals who have run since scored next time out. Related to Storm Cat, he finished well clear of the rest when beaten a neck that day and represents a yard in better form now.

*One to watch

Sunraider (B W Hills) was well backed for his debut at Windsor on Sunday but was too keen and green early on. He was then delayed in his run before finishing well for third once clear. That will bring him on to the point that a maiden looks a formality.

*Where the money's going

Age of Aquarius, second in the Grand Prix de Paris, is 11-2 from 6-1 with Totesport for the Ladbrokes St Leger.