Even in turning for comfort to its most venerable race, British horseracing contrived to come up with further bad news. Telescope, rated the only serious home contender for the Investec Derby, will not line up at Epsom tomorrow week after disappointing in a crucial gallop at Lingfield on Wednesday. That leaves Libertarian as the only British colt not wholly dismissed by bookmakers against the unbeaten Irish favourite, Dawn Approach – and even he can still be backed at 20-1 after his shock success in the Dante Stakes at York last week.
Telescope himself was obliged to sit out that race after a setback. Though he had retained a precarious involvement by working well at the weekend, he proved lethargic at Lingfield and Sir Michael Stoute nearly sounded relieved as he decided that the colt should not be forced to Epsom. "The horse is sound, but we have detected a bit of soreness on his left fore shin," the trainer said. "I think he is just telling us to back off for a little bit."
Stoute has a fine record with maturing horses and the Highclere syndicate disappointed by the news – whose members include Sir Alex Ferguson – will be consoled that a little forbearance now may contribute to Telescope's ultimate fulfilment. After all, he has only ever contested two maidens and would have been woefully short of experience for a Derby.
Stoute, meanwhile, remains optimistic that he could yet break a lean spell in elite races through Liber Nauticus, who did get critical seasoning at York, in the Investec Oaks next Friday. "She's a fine, big athlete who was very green in her Goodwood race last year, and did well when winning the Musidora," Stoute said. "She wasn't spectacular but that is never going to be her style, and I think the race will have mentally sharpened her up."
There is no lack of British representation in the Oaks, with both Ralph Beckett and Michael Bell saddling two fillies apiece. The latter brought his pair, The Lark and Madame Defarge, to Epsom during the annual promotional morning, Breakfast With The Stars. "Both have to step up on what they have done, but I think they are capable of that," Bell said. "The Lark has come on a lot for Newbury, which we knew she would. Madame Defarge is like her sire, Motivator, in that she doesn't need so much work. But she got squeezed on the rail when running over a mile and a quarter at Newmarket, is bred to stay well and has bags of scope."
Also undertaking gentle reconnaissance of the hill was Ocovango, whose trainer, André Fabre, hopes he can replicate the Derby success of Pour Moi two years ago. Aidan O'Brien, meanwhile, indicated that he may have fewer runners than had been anticipated, confirming only that Mars would join his No 1 challenger, Battle Of Marengo.
The impasse over relicensing in France, contingent on satisfying unspecified concerns of a medical committee, makes it increasingly unlikely that Frankie Dettori would be available anyway.
Dettori's former employer, Sheikh Mohammed, has responded to criticism of relative laxity in steroid controls in Dubai. The disgraced Godolphin trainer, Mahmood al-Zarooni, contended that he had not been aware that steroids were prohibited in training in Britain, as regulations in his homeland require only that they do not show in raceday sampling.
"I have, in light of the unfortunate recent event, directed that a decree be issued making, with immediate effect, the import, sale, purchase or use of anabolic steroids in horse sports a criminal offence under the UAE penal laws," the sheikh announced. "Regrettably, one of my stables in Europe has recently fallen below the standards I expect and will tolerate. As soon as the internal investigations are complete and the requisite pre-emptory rules are put in place, Godolphin will go from strength to strength and lead, once again, adherence to the highest standards in that gracious sport."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Gift Of Silence (3.55 Yarmouth) Looked equal to this kind of rating when finishing well here last time.
Bassara (3.20 Yarmouth)