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By Nick Robson, Press Association Sport. Last Updated: 13/05/10 5:21pm
Sariska - impressive.
Sariska put down the first major marker for the season among the older horses with an all-the-way success in the totesport.com Middleton Stakes at York.
Michael Bell's filly bagged an Oaks double last year at Epsom and the Curragh, but ended the season on something of a downer having lost to Dar Re Mi on the Knavesmire and in finishing only third in the Champion Stakes.
Bell was insistent, however, the daughter of Pivotal would always make up into a better four-year-old and on this evidence his unshakeable confidence looks well placed.
Admittedly, Sariska (10-11 favourite) was favoured by the conditions of this Group Two 10-furlong heat, as Henry Cecil's Midday, just behind Bell's charge at Epsom, had to carry 5lb extra after her victorious trip to the Breeders' Cup.
With the ground good to firm and quickening up all the time, Sariska recorded a time barely half a second outside Sea The Stars' course record, although it was a late decision to even let her take part.
Jamie Spencer was keen to use Sariska's proven stamina and kicked on a good half-mile out, putting Midday and Eddie Ahern in trouble before the latter eventually got going and passed Godolphin's Flying Cloud for second, a length and three-quarters behind the impressive winner.
"It was borderline whether we ran her, but she'd actually run some of her best races on similar ground," said Bell.
"They'd watered and when we walked it we found it was nice good ground in the straight.
"Midday has run a stormer and today it was in our favour as she had the penalty.
"She won like we hoped she would.
"There were always signs that she would improve from three to four and the evidence is she has.
"Jamie felt she'd improved and her regular work rider says she feels so much stronger. We've been really happy the way she's being going all spring.
"The Coronation Cup is the target. Last year it was from the Musidora to the Oaks. It's the same timing from the Middleton to Coronation so that's where she'll go."
Spencer was impressed with his mount but was far from pleased with the condition of the ground.
He said: "I'm really delighted with her. She couldn't have done it much easier, but I'm disappointed the way the ground is.
"There are trials on today and the ground shouldn't be as firm as that for any racehorse in this day and age.
"I just hope she's all right tomorrow. It was a big risk to run here but she's gone and won."
Cecil was far from despondent with Midday and believes softer ground would see her in a better light.
"The ground was very fast and she didn't like it. She is a heavy shouldered horse and was hanging a bit on the ground," he said.
"She has run a very good race, but really needs a mile and a half unless there is give in the ground.
"She will be better on good ground and over a mile and a half. We will just see where we go as it is a long year, but she has now had her race.
"I didn't really expect her to beat Sariska and she may be a bit more forward than we are."
Ahern was given a two-day ban (May 27 and 28) for using his whip with excessive frequency and without giving Midday time to respond.