05/13/2010 12:00AM

Cape Blanco impresses in Derby prep

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Cape Blanco crushed a very good field Thursday in the Group 2, $222,000 Dante Stakes, the key Epsom Derby prep at York, giving trainer Aidan O'Brien his fourth victory in the race.

O'Brien's previous Dante winners, Saratoga Springs, Septimus, and Black Bear Island, failed in the Epsom classic, but the unbeaten Cape Blanco must rate a very good chance off this impressive 3 1/4-length victory over Workforce in the 1 1/4-mile, 88-yard contest. A son of O'Brien's 2001 Epsom Derby winner Galileo, Cape Blanco led under Johnny Murtagh at the three-sixteenths pole and went quickly clear at a generous 9-2. The 2-1 maiden winner Workforce was up for second, three-quarters of a length in front of Coordinated Cut. The Godolphin-owned Chabal, sent off as the 7-4 choice off his victory in the Sandown Classic Trial, was the first horse beaten as he came home a distant fourth, beaten 20 lengths in all. The winning time on good to firm ground was 2:06.70.

This was Cape Blanco's first start since he had won the seven-furlong, Group 2 Futurity Stakes at Fairyhouse on Aug. 22, and he is now 4 for 4 lifetime. A half-brother to Mr. O'Brien, who won the Dixie Stakes and the Kelso Stakes in 2004, he has been made second favorite for the Epsom Derby by William Hill at 4-1 behind stablemate St Nicolas Abbey at 5-2. The Michael Stoute-trained Workforce, who had won his maiden first time out by six lengths going seven furlongs at Goodwood in September, raced greenly for much of the way and will surely improve for this effort. He is William Hill's third favorite for the Derby at 8-1.

A half-hour earlier, Sariska led throughout to give Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Midday a 1 3/4-length beating in the Group 2, $148,000 Middleton Stakes. The two fillies, who had finished first and second in last year's English Oaks, were both making their seasonal debuts in a race that went without Oaks third High Heeled, who was a late scratch.

Eddie Ahern was hard at work on Midday a half-mile from home as Sariska and Jamie Spencer drew clear. Midday was making up ground late but never threatened the Michael Bell-trained winner, who clocked 2:06.20 for the 1 1/4 miles, 88 yards. That is .91 of a second off the track record set by Sea the Stars in the Juddmonte International. Sariska will go next against males in the 1 1/2-mile, Group 1 Coronation Cup at Epsom on June 4.