The stakes, coming to York this week, were already uncomfortably high. Having seen rival trainers carve up the other Epsom trials, Sir Michael Stoute had the hot favourites for the two that remained – for colts and fillies respectively – even though each had so far won only a maiden. Today, however, the outlook became still more precarious. An untimely setback meant that Stoute was unable to declare Telescope for the Betfred Dante Stakes tomorrow, and the colt's participation in the Investec Derby is now in the balance. Suddenly the performance of Liber Nauticus in the Tattersalls Musidora Stakes today has obtained grim new significance for the 10-times champion trainer.
The fact is that Stoute has not saddled a Group One winner since taking the 2010 Arc with his fifth Derby winner, Workforce. That was the 11th consecutive year in which he had won at least £1.25m in prize-money in Britain. In both campaigns since, however, he has mustered barely half that tally.
His stable has made a brisker start to the new season, while the anticipated reappearance of Telescope had been preceded by plenty of excited chatter from the Newmarket gallops. But an infection has set into a couple of leg grazes, sustained while the Galileo colt was being loaded on to a horsebox, and could not be treated with anti-inflammatories so close to a race. Harry Herbert – manager of the Highclere syndicate that owns Telescope, which includes Sir Alex Ferguson – is still hoping the colt can make Epsom on 1 June. "Sir Michael is hoping to give him a racecourse gallop in preparation," Herbert said. But the trainer himself sounded more cautious, observing that he would "know more in the next 48 hours". Even if Stoute can get him across the high wire, of course, Telescope would remain grievously short of experience.
So while it remains to be seen whether his Derby colt has been holed beneath the waterline – for now, Coral go 8-1 from 5-1 – it now seems fairly urgent for Liber Nauticus to prove herself a seaworthy candidate for the Investec Oaks. She has clung to a prominent place in the ante-post market, and will be at corresponding odds today. But that is sooner a reflection on a persuasive overall package, embracing pedigree and connections, than on the substance of her sole public appearance in a maiden at Goodwood last September.
As it stands, that was an auspicious debut over a tricky track for beginners. Once clicking into top gear, she did finish well on top – much as Workforce had, when himself arriving on the Knavesmire with just a Goodwood maiden win to his name. As a daughter of Azamour and a mare closely related to Conduit, Liber Nauticus is bound to leave that form behind given another couple of furlongs over this galloping track.
For now, in a field lacking depth, it would be disappointing if Liber Nauticus (2.45) could not at least prolong her trainer's Epsom involvement this year. Her jockey, Ryan Moore, also has prospects in the other Group race on the card, albeit Gordon Lord Byron faces a stiff task under a penalty in the Duke Of York Clipper Logistics Stakes. A tempting case can be made for either of Jim Goldie's pair, and Graham Lee has chosen Hawkeyethenoo (3.15), who should come on for his reappearance and has shown a liking for this course in the past.
A couple of competitive handicaps are also screened on Channel 4, with Clayton (1.45) and Mississippi (2.15) both holding solid claims.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Novirak (3.50 York) Looked one to follow when closing for third place on his comeback.
Centrality (5.40 Bath) Proved too green when well backed for his debut but not given too hard a time once beaten and type to make big improvement for that experience.