Riyadian to cool Godolphin fervour

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The Independent Online
The average racing mind is not noted for its openness, but perhaps, as the Millenium approaches, we are growing just a little more liberal. Five years ago, the idea that the two main races at Newmarket this afternoon might be won by horses which had spent the winter in the Middle East would have seemed laughable. In 1996, however, the only surprise is not that such a thing is possible, but that everyone accepts it as part of the natural course of events.

Mick's Love, in the Newmarket Stakes, and Moonshell, last year's Oaks winner, in the Jockey Club Stakes, will give British racegoers their first sight of the Godolphin team this year, and what few hints there have been so far imply that their runners are every bit as fit and healthy after their winter in the sun as in seasons past. Mark Of Esteem, Godolphin's representative in the 2,000 Guineas tomorrow, started to shrink in the ante-post betting from the moment his plane touched down. From a general 10-1, he was 8-1 before he retrieved his luggage, and as short as 6-1 by the time he reached customs.

Should either of today's principal Godolphin runners succeed, the run on Mark Of Esteem will turn into a headlong charge. While both will go to post with realistic chances, they also face rivals who should have the beating of them.

Moonshell is worth opposing under her Group One penalty, and the choice here is Riyadian (next best 3.40). Paul Cole's colt had an unhappy run in the Derby last year, but returned to win two back-end races before running second to Spectrum in the Champion Stakes. Over a more suitable 12 furlongs today, he will be very hard to beat.

Mick's Love was the convincing winner last year of a conditions event at Newbury which often uncovers a top-class performer. Clever Cliche (3.05), by contrast, has won only a Nottingham maiden, but he did so despite finding trouble in running, and shortly after being supplemented to the Derby for pounds 8,000. If Henry Cecil thinks he is worth that sort of outlay, who are we to argue.

Ladbrokes certainly seem to concur, quoting Clever Cliche at a very respectful 14-1 for the Derby, but such hefty late-entry fees might soon be outmoded if Epsom racecourse get their way. The executive would like to introduce a "wild-card" entry scheme for the Derby, which would allow one horse each year to run in the race even though his trainer had omitted to enter him -last year, for instance, Pentire might have been a popular choice.

The proposal seems to have come as a surprise to the British Horseracing Board, however. "This is news to me," John Smee, responsible for race planning, said yesterday. "This would need a lot of discussion as it is a whole new concept." Translation: don't hold your breath.

Ante-post betting would surely suffer if such a system were introduced, with punters reluctant to get involved when a new favourite could appear just before the race.

Some would argue that anything which discourages ante-post betting must be in the backers' favour and any spare cash today would be better invested on EXPENSIVE TASTE (nap 2.35). Michael Stoute's filly may prove to be above handicap company, and has surely been let in a few pounds light.