Ruznama to run into Oaks picture

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The Independent Online
The segment of common land they call the Knavesmire has been the site of York races since 1731, but seldom has it held the influence that the old turf will provide this week.

The grass on this racecourse is recognised as being late to mature each season and a similar description can be bolted to this year's Derby picture. Following a series of Blue Riband trials that have failed to illuminate, there is plentiful space for Epsom aspirants to elbow their way through the crowd.

York's first meeting of the year will consequently be hugely significant. Whatever wins either tomorrow's Dante Stakes or the Glasgow Stakes the following day will jump like a cricket up the betting list.

In the last 10 years three horses (Shahrastani, Reference Point and Erhaab) have won the Derby after success in the Dante and the imagination does not have to be too flowery to envisage a fourth joining the ranks. Shaamit should have been in the field but Willie Haggas's colt suffered an overreach on Newmarket's Limekilns on Saturday and now misses his trial. His trainer will be scrutinising passages from Godolphin's handbook as he follows the Lammtarra route and goes straight to Epsom.

These days no-one likes getting their gauntlets dirty, and Nash House, the Dante favourite, is no veteran of the tracks himself. He has won only a Newbury maiden, but this slender evidence has not prevented Ladbrokes making him 5-4 for tomorrow and joint favourite for the Blue Riband itself.

Others whose prices may be subject to a slash and burn policy are Dushyantor, who could emerge this week as Henry Cecil's No 1 Derby challenger, and Glory Of Dancer. The latter is trained by Paul Kelleway, who is to self- deprecation what John McCririck is to hang-gliding (or self-deprecation for that matter). Nevertheless, the second by Kelleway's charge in Sandown's Classic Trial, when giving weight to Santillana, is one of the few scores on the door.

Thursday's Glasgow Stakes used to be about as remarkable as losing tickets on the Silver Ring floor, but three years ago it was captured by the subsequent Epsom victor, Commander In Chief. Then, 12 months ago, Tamure, who was to follow home Lammtarra, was successful, stamping the event as a trial of some import.

This week, Nash House's nearest rival in the hierarchy at Manton, Astor Place, will play a pivotal role, along with King Alex, whose trainer, Roger Charlton, won the Lingfield Derby Trial on Saturday with the inferior Mystic Knight.

Compared with what is to follow, the hors-d'oeuvres of today's card is less appetising, though there will be some fluctuation in the Oaks market after the Musidora Stakes. The last winner of the race to go on to take the Classic was Snow Bride in 1989, but every year since then York has provided a horse for the Epsom frame.

Manton is represented by the Kempton winner Sea Spray and Magnificient Style will be supplemented for the Oaks at a cost of pounds 15,000 if she runs well. But the best option may be the only runner who already holds the Classic entry, Ruznama (3.40), who is thought by Barry Hills to be considerably more talented than the animal which was buried behind Pricket at Newmarket earlier this month.

Mark Johnston must like the look of the first televised race as he saddles two beasts who have the credentials to win it. Slight preference is for Double Diamond (next best 2.35).

In the following race there is little to choose between Top Banana and Master Planner (3.05), who goes well early in the season, especially at this track.

The bet of the day, however, is POLYDAMAS (nap 4.10), who looked as though he had a few rashers to spare on his portly body when fourth in a fast- run handicap at Newmarket earlier this month.