Sil Sila to step into spotlight from long-odds shadows

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It sounds perverse, but the one fact which should deter the superstitious from supporting Sil Sila in the Yorkshire Oaks this afternoon is that she will set off as one of the favourites.

Bryan Smart, who trains a mixture of Flat horses and jumpers at his small yard in Lambourn, has sent Sil Sila to the races six times, and three times she has returned home a winner. Her starting prices for those successes were 50-1, 25-1 and 30-1, and anyone who had staked pounds 10 on her nose every time would now be more than pounds 1,000 ahead. For Smart, though, the return has been far more significant still, since the former jump jockey, who had just two horses in his stable as recently as five years ago, is now one of the small percentage of trainers who has saddled a Classic winner.

It was Sil Sila's most recent victory, in the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) at Chantilly, which offered a useful reminder to prospective owners that there is life beyond the three-figure strings in Newmarket. As a result, Smart expects to visit the yearling sales this autumn with several new orders. If Sil Sila could secure a second Group One success this afternoon, he might be bidding for everything in sight.

"I've just been very fortunate to win a Classic with such a good filly and we'll go to York on Wednesday knowing that she owes me nothing," Smart said, but he is also well aware that her chance today is a very real one, not least because there may be better to come from Sil Sila as the season progresses.

"She's an absolute dream to train, she's just like My Little Pony," he says, "but she's very lazy in her work so it can be a problem getting her fit early. At the moment, she looks fantastic, and mentally I'm sure I've never had her better. I rode her out this morning and walking home she was tossing her head around, very happy and very well. We're there to be shot at, but if everything stays together, she'll run a big race."

One minor doubt concerns Sil Sila's stamina as she attempts 12 furlongs for the first time, a worry which would be amplified if, as predicted, heavy rain has arrived at the Knavesmire overnight. Her relaxed style of racing implies she should get home, however, and Sil Sila (2.35) must be the selection in a race which, for betting purposes, is far from ideal.

The contest which does demand a bet is the Ebor itself, though there will be few takers this morning for the long-time favourite, Harbour Dues. Lady Herries's colt pricked a foot yesterday and is a doubtful runner this afternoon. Even if he does make it to post, meanwhile, he is drawn in stall 22, the widest box of all, and though Sanmartino won from there 12 months ago, this must be seen as the exception to prove the rule that horses do not win the Ebor from a high draw.

To the delight of the bookmakers, Beauchamp Jade, the only other runner seriously backed for the race in recent weeks, has also pulled out a high number (18), but from a punting point of view this simply means that the horses worth investigating will be available at a worthwhile price.

Again, any significant overnight rain must be taken into account - in that event, the front-running Desert Frolic, from stall one, might take some passing - but the runner who makes the greatest appeal is BETTER OFFER (nap 3.10). Guy Harwood's four-year-old has clearly been aimed at this race for several months, and the booking of Mick Kinane is further encouragement (the same combination took the 1995 Hunt Cup). The early price of around 14-1 - less, of course, if Harbour Dues comes out - offers excellent value.

The day's second Group race, the Gimcrack Stakes, can also fall to one of our smaller yards, as Brian Meehan's Easycall (3.45) should defy both a penalty and the probable favourite, Paul Cole's The West. Fahim (4.15) is impossible to oppose in the 10-furlong handicap, but hardly value at around 5-2, while the seller which opens the card is to be avoided at all costs.