The best Classic trials are those which inform and intrigue in equal measure, and the Musidora Stakes was just that here on Wednesday as it added another name to the crowd at the top of the Oaks market. Liber Nauticus, the one-and-a-half-length winner, is now a 4-1 chance to win at Epsom on 31 May, yet it is possible that her price owes as much to her colours and connections as it does to the bare form of her performance.
Liber Nauticus runs in the pale blue silks of the Weinstock family's Ballymacoll Stud, which were successful aboard Islington in the 2002 Musidora and have had Classic winners including Troy, Sun Princess, Golan and North Light. Her dam Serres, meanwhile, is a near-relative of the St Leger winner Conduit, and there was more grit than electricity about the way Liber Nauticus worked her way into the lead two furlongs out and then defended her advantage over Romantic Settings.
In her favour, this was only her second race, following a maiden win last September, and she is bred to appreciate another furlong and a half at Epsom. The runner-up, though, won a lowly handicap earlier this month, while Woodland Aria, in third, did not see out the trip.
There was nothing in the form to set Liber Nauticus apart from either Secret Gesture, the Lingfield Oaks Trial winner and 7-2 Oaks favourite, or Aidan O'Brien's Moth, third home in the 1,000 Guineas and 4-1 for Epsom. It is quite possible the Classic market will still be 7-2 the field on the day of the race.
"It's difficult, the ground changed earlier on and it was a muddling pace," Peter Reynolds, Ballymacoll's general manager, said, "so I don't think we saw quite what she's capable of today. She's a filly that's bred to stay, she probably hit the front a little sooner than Ryan [Moore] wanted and she seemed to idle when she hit the front, which can happen. It's up to [Sir] Michael [Stoute, her trainer] where she goes next. She's entered in the Irish Oaks and the Ribblesdale [at Royal Ascot], we'll see what Michael says. It's not cast in stone [that she will run in the Oaks]."
Society Rock, one of the mainstays of James Fanshawe's yard for the past four years, won his seasonal debut for the first time in his career when he took the Duke Of York Stakes by a head under a strong ride from Kieren Fallon. The six-year-old will now head to the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot, a race he won in 2011 before finishing a close fifth behind Black Caviar after a slow start last season.
"He normally takes a bit of warming up in the spring," Fanshawe said. "We've been working away at the stalls, and if he gets a smooth start, that's half the battle with him.
"He's an exciting horse to have for the season, and he loves it as Ascot. He missed the break completely last season, and hopefully that won't happen again this year. Kieren gets on very well with him, they're both characters and they suit each other. He's maintained his appetite for racing and he's got better and stronger."
Frankie Dettori, who will return from a six-month suspension for a drugs offence at Leicester racecourse on Monday, will admit to taking cocaine for the first time in public in an interview with Clare Balding to be screened on Channel 4 News on Thursday evening. Dettori will say in the interview that he took the drug in "a moment of madness", and that he is "very ashamed and embarrassed" by his actions.Society Rock is now top-priced at 9-1 for the Diamond Jubilee Stakes behind Shea Shea, from Mike de Kock's stable in South Africa, who looks a less formidable opponent than Black Caviar last time around.
"I was brought up in jumping and I've seen horses fall at the last when you think they're going to win, so a result's a result," Fanshawe says of last year's race. "He missed the break and that's what happened. Lots of people have said [that he might have beaten Black Caviar with a better start], but you'd drive yourself mad thinking that way."