Sariska on course to get Bell to magic 1,000-winner mark
MICHAEL BELL has trained 999 winners from Fitzroy House in Newmarket and if Sariska has any sense of timing, she will become his 1,000th in tomorrow's Coronation Cup at Epsom.
The trainer would be just as happy were Red Amy to beat her to it at Lingfield today, because she is named after Bell's daughter, but there is no disguising the trainer's satisfaction with last year's Oaks winner in her build-up for her first major test of the season.
"She's in great form and I really couldn't be any happier with her," he said yesterday. "She's moving well, looks spot on and has been trouble free since her win at York. Her work suggests she has improved and she's bred to. Progeny of her sire (Pivotal) generally improve at four. Her dam (Maycocks Bay) didn't win until she was four and her sister, Gull Wing, improved 8lb between three and four.
"Mind you, she needs to improve up against the Arc second (Youmzain) and third (Cavalryman) plus an Irish Derby winner (Fame And Glory) and that's before you add in Jukebox Jury, Clowance and High Heeled. I think it's the most competitive Coronation for years."
To a certain extent, with an Epsom and Irish Oaks under her belt, the pressure is off for Bell and he can sit back and enjoy Sariska being a regular participant on the big occasions this season.
"You come to a stage when you can just enjoy them," he said. "She has enough on her CV to satisfy any owner-breeder and while it is not quite the case that anything else is a bonus, it is almost. Ironically, she's the first older horse I've run in a Group One mile-and-a-half race. Most of my decent ones haven't raced beyond three."
Bell is hopeful she can maintain her supremacy over Fame And Glory, which is attempting to give Aidan O'Brien his first Group One win outside of Ireland this season.
"She finished two-and-three-quarter lengths in front of him in the Champion Stakes and the Oaks was run a second faster than the Derby last year," Bell said. "Sea The Stars may have been coasting in front, but Fame And Glory was behind. He was impressive last time so I'm pleased we get a 3lb allowance, but I'd hope she can beat him."
The Oaks market leaders, Aviate and Rumoush, will have to face all their fancied rivals as only two horses withdrew yesterday, leaving 15 declared for tomorrow's Classic.
Hibaayeb is officially out of the race, as is the O'Brien-trained Lady Lupus, leaving the Ballydoyle trainer three-handed in the race. That means leading fancies including the Henry Cecil-trained pair, Aviate and Timepiece, and the heavily gambled upon Sajjhaa will line up against the strongest field of fillies possible.
The absence of Hibaayeb, Godolphin's only entry in the Epsom fillies' Classic, has paved the way for retained jockey Frankie Dettori to partner Sajjhaa, the Michael Jarvis-trained, once-raced Oaks gamble.
Johnny Murtagh will ride the leading O'Brien-trained fancy Remember When, with Colm O'Donoghue taking the ride on Cabaret and Seamie Heffernan partnering Awe Inspiring.
Kevin Manning has been confirmed as the rider for the Jim Bolger-trained Akdarena, which is as short as 9/1 in places. David Lanigan is looking forward to saddling his first Classic contender in the Oaks, and the young trainer believes his charge, Meeznah, is no forlorn hope despite her 33/1 price.
Meeznah earned her place in the Epsom Downs line-up with an impressive nine-length victory in a Newmarket maiden over the distance on May 14. (© Daily Telegraph, London)