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York - Musidora Stakes preview

I've never been to a York festival but the northerners tell me I'm seriously missing out. The Dante festival kicks off on Wednesday and leading off with his shrewd assessment of the top fillies' race is Mark Rowntree, @uptheirons007. Read more of his excellent work on his blog.

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Tattersalls Musidora Stakes Preview – York 15th May 2013

A recognised trial for the Investec Oaks, Wednesday’s Group 3 Tattersalls Musidora Stakes at York has attracted a compact field of only six runners, despite a healthy prize fund of £75,000. The Ballymacoll Stud owned and Sir Michael Stoute trained Liber Nauticus will undoubtedly head the market. This Oaks, Irish Oaks and Ribblesdale entrant has only been seen once on a race course to date, when making a winning debut in an Maiden Fillies event over eight furlongs at Goodwood in September 2012 on ground described as Good. Despite running green early doors, the filly showed a smart turn of foot inside the final furlong staying on strongly to score decisively by one and three quarter lengths from Richard Hannon’s Heading North and John Gosden’s Cushion. Whilst the proximity of Heading North to Liber Nauticus would raise some serious concerns about the significant step up in grade for Sir Michael Stoute’s filly, we should note that Liber Nauticus was giving the benefit of experience away to Heading North at Goodwood and should improve significantly for both a Winter break and also the step up in trip to an extended 1m2f. With a pedigree which includes Azamour – an exceptional miler who handled the step upto both ten and twelve furlongs with aplomb in his racing career at the ages of three and four, as well as the ultra tough Godolphin owned grey Daylami, the potential of Liber Nauticus to thrive over ten furlongs is all too obvious. The fact that connections describe Liber Nauticus as a sizeable filly only further reinforces the opinion that a step up in trip will be ideal. Prominent in every ante-post list for the Oaks, a decisive display here at York will see her bang on track for Epsom Downs in June.

Woodland Aria has a similar profile to Liber Nauticus in the sense that she’s unbeaten in her sole start to date. However, it was on the All Weather at Wolverhampton in April that John Gosden’s filly made a successful start to her career. In landing a Maiden Fillies contest over an extended 1m&1f from Sir Michael Stoute’s Elik, Woodland Aria marked her ability for tackling the trip in the Musidora without fear. Although there would be little doubt this Singspiel filly could translate this ability to turf (on a predicted Good to Firm surface), the fear would be that Sir Michael Stoute would have a firm idea of how Liber Nauticus compares with Elik. The suspicion would be that Liber Nauticus is well ahead of Elik, based upon the fact that Elik could only finish fourth to Banoffee in last week’s Chesire Oaks on the Roodeye, coupled with the prominence of Liber Nauticus towards the fore of the Ante Post lists for the Epsom Classic.

Another who holds an entry for both Epsom and Royal Ascot, Indigo Lady will represent the Peter Chapple Hyam yard with Jamie Spencer aboard. This filly by Derby winner Sir Percy has been campaigned over seven and eight furlongs in her three career starts to date. Fifth of fifteen on debut at Doncaster in July 2012, she subsequently justified favouritism in a seven runner Maiden Auction Stakes at Yarmouth the following month. On this occasion, she made all of the running, quickening from the furlong pole to score well on ground described as Good to Soft. On her third start as a two year old, Indigo Lady made the trip to Chantilly for the Group 3 Prix D’Aumale over a mile. Indigo Lady could only finish third behind Peace Bug on this cross channel venture run on predictably Soft ground. Although she’s clearly an experienced filly, with the benefit of an overseas race to her name, and the fact she’s managed to score with some give in the ground bodes well for the chances of her stepping up further in trip on predicted faster ground at York, she’s still got to prove her ability to handle an extended ten furlongs. Despite her pedigree, the balance of her overall form suggests she’s opposable at this sort of trip. Nevertheless, there is also the distinct possibility that in a small field, she’ll be allowed a soft lead off a muddling pace and having proved that she can stay on well from the front at Yarmouth could do likewise on the expanses of the Knavesmire. However, the suspicion would be that she’ll also need to improve immeasurably to down Liber Nauticus.

Although improving markedly with each of her four career starts for Malton based handler Richard Fahey, it would be somewhat disappointing if the nine furlong Musselburgh handicap winner Romantic Settings was capable of playing a significant role in this Group 3 contest. Also a winner over a mile in an EBF Maiden at Haydock in September 2012, the Malton based charge made light of the testing conditions in Scotland on her return in early May to score by one and a half lengths from Mark Johnston’s King of The Danes. Unless we have significant (and unforecast) rain in the hours leading upto the Musidora, one would suspect Romantic Settings will be aiming for fourth or fifth placed prize money at best, even under the handling of the excellent Paul Hanagan, with a view to enhancing her paddock value, rather than going forward as a genuine contender for Epsom. Similar comments apply to the Mark Johnston trained filly Discernable. A winner of two of her eight career starts (both over seven furlongs), and whilst remaining ever respectful of her powerful stable, it would be a major surprise if one or two of the less exposed runners didn’t prove far superior to Discernable based upon her racecourse achievements to date. Her profile doesn’t really fit the requirements of an improving three year old traditionally associated with success in such an established Group 1 trial. Furthermore, the fact that the best of her form has come over a trip less than a mile implies that she may have some difficulty with the trip despite the general proven stamina of most Mark Johnston inmates. Of the three probable outsiders, it is perhaps Hollowina that holds the best chance of bustling up the market principals.

Although Hollowina hails from perhaps the least fashionable yard in the race (David Brown), this in no way detracts from her chances or is a reflection on her trainers ability. A winner of a Maiden Fillies Stakes at Haydock in September 2012 over a mile on Heavy ground, she subsequently put in a fair effort when a staying on fourth to Pure Excellence from off the pace in the Listed EBF Piper Heidseick Montrose Fillies Stakes at Newmarket on a similar soft surface. On her reappearance as a three year old last week in the Chesire Oaks at Chester, she filled fifth position after meeting trouble in running – one place behind the aforementioned Elik. This gives some hope that her form may be broadly comparable with Woodland Aria, and at double figure digits she could be worth a small place bet taking on trust her ability to handle a faster surface. Overall, my view is that she certainly has a significantly better chance than either Romantic Settings or Discernable at similar odds.

Verdict

However, in terms of the most likely winner, and even at a shade of odds-on, it would be folly to oppose Sir Michael Stoute’s Liber Nauticus based solely upon the fact that she has the pedigree associated with success in this contest, and by far and away the most potential for improvement in the race.

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