Classic favourite Alhaarth falters

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Reputations perish quickly in this week of the racing season, a phenomenon known in the sport as bubbles bursting. Yesterday the Hindenburg fell to earth here.

Alhaarth, the short-priced favourite for both the 2,000 Guineas and Derby, was beaten for the first time in his career. Another supposed reincarnation of Pegasus had crash landed. Dick Hern's colt failed by only a neck in the Craven Stakes and is still the market leader for both Classics, but any thought that an extra box is being knocked up in racing's pantheon can now be dispelled. He cannot be a wonder horse after this.

There have been plenty of shocks this week when, traditionally, the flashy dans of the gallops try to confirm their credentials on the anvil of racecourse competition.

Beforehand, Alhaarth certainly looked the part. Milky splashes on his forehead and snout distinguished the bay colt, as did his gleaming hide, which had the rich shine of the managing director's desk. Two-year-olds are meant to grow like bamboo over their third winter, but, perhaps tellingly, Alhaarth looked little different from the animal who recorded five straight successes last year.

He was familiarly eager on the racetrack too, tossing his head extravagantly, as Rio Duvida tugged the small field along. Two furlongs out, Willie Carson initiated his bolt for home, but he was soon collared by the grey shape of Beauchamp King. "I was travelling so well that I knew when Willie kicked he was not going to go far away," John Reid, Beauchamp King's jockey, reported later.

Alhaarth engaged combat in pleasing manner but he was never going to get back, and by the time he returned a cathedral silence had descended on Hern and his team. In his flat cap, anorak and mittens the Major looked like someone in his shed at the allotments. The words were brave but the look was of a man who had just had his tomatoes visited by blight. "He ran a good race and I'm quite happy to be back here in a fortnight," Hern said. "That will have done him good and that was the whole object of running, to give him the benefit of a race."

There were worrying signs for those who have the big ante-post prices about Alhaarth, however. The colt was not exactly puffing like an athlete with improvement to come ("he wouldn't have blown a match out," said Hern) and he was subjected to the hardest race of his life, absorbing several meaty smacks from Carson. "I wouldn't want to be lying down on that side tonight," the jockey said.

Carson was not entirely disspirited. "I've got a great chance of beating that grey horse," he said, "but whether that's good enough to win the Guineas is another matter."