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Alexandrova has the class edge, but this is only a dress rehearsal; Day one of the York Dante meeting.

Byline: James Willoughby Chief correspondent

ITS ROYAL fling was as brief as it was exciting, but York racecourse must now get back to normal life. Another season on the Knavesmire begins today, with a blue-blooded filly headlining the Group 3 Tattersalls Musidora Stakes, live on Channel 4.

This is the date for which Alexandrova has been spruced up ever since it was clear she had the Classic look. But the same point of rendezvous has been chosen by five other eligible females, all keen to outshine each other in a bid to gain the limelight. These situations can sometimes devolve into a tooth-and-nail scrap.

Bidding to rise above any contretemps is the regal figure of Alexandrova, the Aidan O'Brien-trained filly who shares her name with the prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet.

She has already attracted considerable attention in the ante-post market for the Vodafone Oaks, and her supporters will be looking for something to take the breath away.

The daughter of Sadler's Wells showed a clean pair of heels to a Tralee maiden field last August, before delivering the performance of her short life to finish second in the Group 1 Fillies' Mile at Newmarket the following month. In the latter, a narrow defeat by Nannina, the determined Alexandrova showed punch as well as prance.

The chance to stretch her legs over middle distances looks sure to see Alexandrova find her metier.

She certainly has the pedigree for the big dance at Epsom, and the captivating aspect of her Newmarket performance was the frantic tempo she sustained in the closing stages. Nannina's winning time was only three lengths slower than Starcraft in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes - a far smaller margin than has separated the races in other years.

There were many who believed they had seen future winners of the 1,000 Guineas and Oaks. Unfortunately, Nannina did not come to hand in time for her own date with destiny, but it should be noted by those needing reassurance about the form that Nasheej was beaten a similar distance when third in both the Fillies' Mile and Speciosa's 1,000 Guineas.

O'Brien has made another great start to the season. Just like he always said, the Ballydoyle horses have generally benefited from a run.

While Alexandrova has an obvious class edge here, we should remember that this is merely a dress rehearsal for next month's main event.

Punters judging Alexandrova to be too high maintenance at today's prices might find Short Skirt a tempting alternative.

The Diktat filly put it all out there as a debutante, streaking away by six lengths at Newmarket last August. She was then drawn in the cheap seats for the Rockfel Stakes on the same track and never got a piece of the action.

Short Skirt could leave that dubious past well behind this afternoon. A halfsister to middle-distance winners Whitewater Affair and Little Rock, she has the breeding to mix in higher circles as she matures, and this afternoon looks a prime opportunity.

Set against these classy rivals, High Heel Sneakers would seem to appeal only to those of a peculiar disposition. Indeed, those who saw her come off the rails when third at Longchamp on her reappearance will need to be forgiving types to entertain her again. Her best hope would be to mess the others about by controlling the pace.

The remainder bring a strange cocktail to the party. There is Lake Shabla, a Polytrack winner on her debut who is better than she looked at Kempton first time out, the capricious Maroussies Wings and the Clive Brittain-trained newcomer Jabbara.

Elsewhere on the card, the reappearance of the promising Balthazaar's Gift in the Duke of York Stakes should be interesting.

The fact that a three-year-old won the Palace House Stakes will not have escaped many looking to find fresh blood to eclipse the tired older brigade of sprinters.

Refer to the BHB ratings of this field, and it looks as if the race is a 0-110 handicap in which everything carries top weight.

Most of these are getting worse, or not getting better, while the soft-ground lover Balthazaar's Gift has a big future and should be in his element.

The day begins with a cracking mileand- a-quarter handicap that matches progressive rivals Red Racketeer, Miss Provvidence, Focus Group and Look Again. The last-named was desperately unlucky at Newmarket on Saturday and looks on a favourable mark at present.

CAPTION(S):

Alexandrova, pictured under Kieren Fallon after victory at Tralee last August, bids to consolidate her Oaks claims in today's Musidora Stakes
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:May 17, 2006
Words:761
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