Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Oaks clues could be revealed at York

The equivocal performance of St Nicholas Abbey in the season's first Classic very much set the tone for those of his contemporaries who have since joined him on the road to Epsom.

Sixth in the 2,000 Guineas was received as a disappointment, on the day, but is increasingly being perceived as the most substantial rehearsal to date for the Investec Derby, over another half-mile.

A corresponding reticence, meanwhile, also seems to be infecting the fillies. Those who cherish the annual cycle of Epsom trials may duly be hoping that both genders have saved the best until last.

Workforce, the bookmakers' leading alternative to St Nicholas Abbey, is among six colts declared for the Totesport Dante Stakes tomorrow.

The Investec Oaks, meanwhile, may also prove easier to fathom after the two remaining fillies' trials — one at Newbury on Friday and the other this afternoon on the opening card of the Dante meeting at York.

Only a really authoritative success in the Tattersalls Musidora Stakes, however, would seem likely to volunteer a possible Oaks winner. And it so happens that the one filly who enters the gate unbeaten would not necessarily do so, even if reaching the post with the same status.

Aviate does not have the stoutest of pedigrees and is by no means certain to stay an extended 10 furlongs today, never mind the extra distance at Epsom.

Heavy support before her debut, over a mile at Kempton in November, suggested she had shown plenty of speed at home, and she did so in the race as well. Then, reappearing over the same trip at Ascot last month, she had too much acceleration for a small field going a mild pace to halfway.

The form as it stands is pretty plain, with the runner-up well beaten in a handicap when returning to the same course and distance on Saturday. And automatic respect for her connections — Henry Cecil has won this eight times already — will be heavily factored into the odds.

The same holds true of Eleanora Duse, who is guaranteed to improve for the extra distance but certainly needs to do so, having been beaten off a tame mark on her reappearance at Ripon. Her strong finish that day guaranteed handicap success over middle distances, so it seems safe to say that Sir Michael Stoute would only squander her present rating for a good reason — one that may well become apparent today. For now, however, backers can only be guessing.

Red Fantasy must show that her improved form at Newmarket did not merely reflect proximity to a slow pace, and Pink Symphony that her awkward demeanour at Newbury did not betray a lack of commitment.

Gold Bubbles has regressed, while even her trainer describes Cracking Lass as too “timid”. That leaves only Cabaret and Bikini Babe.

Cabaret is the most plausible Oaks winner in the field, judged on her rapid progress in three quick runs last summer, but she then disappeared until the autumn when her saddle slipped in a Group One race in Paris. Aidan O'Brien's three-year-olds are beginning to find a better rhythm, but he has indicated that this filly is only just coming to hand and will settle for any kind of positive run today.

With an each-way return for three out of eight runners, the odds against Bikini Babe are just too tempting. On a track that can favour front-runners, she could well get away with an easy lead and she is usefully battle-hardened.