Branch has solid look at 40-1

Greg Wood picks through the prices in the first four Classics of the season
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The Independent Online
Bookmakers offering dreadful odds on the Classic favourites are now as much as part of Easter tradition as eggs and bunnies, but this year the accountants to whom risk is the worst of all four-letter words have surpassed themselves.

As a demonstration of the way things are going, consider that Shadeed, the 1985 2,000 Guineas winner, could be backed at 7-2 after his convincing win in the Craven Stakes; Shergar was an 8-1 chance for the Derby after his Sandown Classic Trial victory and, briefly, 5-2 after taking the Chester Vase.

In the nervous 1990s, though, you will not beat 11-8 about Alhaarth for next month's 2,000 Guineas (or, for that matter, 3-1 for the Derby), despite the fact that he has yet to see a track this year, and indeed will only now be starting his fast work at home. Alhaarth is just one of 67 entries in the first colts' Classic, and yet the bookmakers are telling us that his chance of success is almost 50 per cent.

It has not yet been decided whether Alhaarth will have a Guineas prep- race, but since Dick Hern's two previous winners of the 2,000, Nashwan and Brigadier Gerard, did so first time up, this may not worry many punters or seriously affect his price. Whether a successful debut in a Classic is quite so likely in the era of Godolphin's system of accelerated development must be doubtful, as must Alhaarth's right to be likened to such exceptional horses.

The Godolphin team has yet to make a final decision on which of their horses will return to Britain, and since their winter-holiday party included Mark Of Esteem, the ante-post 2,000 Guineas second-favourite, his odds too look cramped.

As yet, most trainers have little idea as to just how well their best horses have fared during the last five months, and fillies in particular are slow to come to hand after such a hard winter. In which case, you may fairly ask, what chance do punters have, and certainly there are better times than Easter to get involved in the ante-post markets.

In the first two Classics, though, the best juvenile often stands up well. Bookie-inspired dark horses, for example John Gosden's Pommard, recently well-supported (so they tell us) to 16-1 for the 2,000, are best avoided. Pommard, who won a maiden in June on his only start, is clearly working like a good horse, but experience is just as important at Newmarket. On a simple point of value, Danehill Dancer, runner-up to Alhaarth in the Dewhurst, looks over-priced at 25-1, and would certainly be so if any mishap were to befall the favourite.

The 1,000 Guineas odds are dominated, as they have been throughout the winter, by Bosra Sham and Blue Duster, though the uncertain participation of A Votre Sante, trained by Criquette Head, is a unfortunate complication. A Votre Sante destroyed a useful field at Saint-Cloud a week ago, and at 12-1 would be a very interesting candidate, but the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (French 1,000) is an equally likely target.

Again, the best two-year-olds generally go very well in the 1,000, but the current odds about Bosra Sham, last year's Fillies' Mile winner, and Blue Duster, who took the Cheveley Park Stakes, are best avoided. One alternative is My Branch, a 40-1 chance with Ladbrokes, who was runner- up to Blue Duster at Newmarket and improved rapidly throughout last season. If that progress has continued, she could yet be a serious contender.

Alhaarth dominates the Derby market too, but by June the late developers will be finding form and there are plenty of names to consider. Another of John Gosden's charges, Sacho, by Sadlers Wells out of Oh So Sharp, has been well backed recently, while Silver Dome, who beat him in a Newmarket maiden, has also found support.

Preference is for the 33-1 chance Helicon, another Newmarket maiden winner who joined the exodus to Dubai, while in the Oaks, Bint Salsabil is fairly priced at 16-1. This Classic often cuts up, and as a daughter of Nashwan and Salsabil, she has the pedigree.