COMMENTARY : Bosra's rival is feeling Blue

As a competitive spectacle the 1,000 Guineas was becoming close to lawn viewing yesterday as fears grew that the second favourite, Blue Duster, is failing to show she is in shape for the Classic.

David Loder's filly appeared after racing at Newmarket on Thursday for what was supposed to be a serious piece of work, but she performed as if she had handed in a sick note. The Cheveley Park Stakes winner - unbeaten in all four of her races last season - was consequently removed from bookmakers' ante-post betting lists.

"Obviously she will need to be at the top of her mettle to run at Newmarket in a fortnight's time and David Loder's horses don't look to be in form," Anthony Stroud, racing manager to Blue Duster's owner, Sheikh Mohammed, said yesterday. "I spoke to Sheikh Mohammed this morning and I will speak to him again before a final decision is reached. If she didn't go for the Guineas she would be aimed at the Irish Guineas and Royal Ascot's Coronation Stakes.''

These revelations caused Bosra Sham, already a short-priced favourite, to harden in the market. She is now down to 4-9 with Coral. This will be of some relief to her owner, the Syrian businessman Wafic Said.

Old Wafic was at Newbury on Friday to see his pride and joy run away with the Fred Darling Stakes, and relieved he must have been too. The poor bloke had to shell out 530,000 guineas to buy the filly as a yearling, and even though his bank manager was not in attendance and the vestments did not suggest he would have a metal mug out at the tube station on the way home, he must have to hold back some of the piastres to make a living.

Blue Duster's absence would suspend one of the great arm-wrestling championships of the season between Sheikh Mohammed and Henry Cecil, Bosra Sham's trainer, who kissed and slapped goodbye last season. Dubai's crown prince believes he knows as much about horses as many of his trainers, while Cecil thinks the only words he should hear from his owners are "the money is in your bank account O Great One". These attitudes left space for disagreement.

If the Sheikh is to put Cecil's well-grown nose (it did very well from 52 to 53 over the winter) out of joint it now seems as though it will be via Bint Shadayid, the Godolphin product.

The 2,000 Guineas picture was meant to have been clarified this week, but Alhaarth remains the favourite, partly because Willie Carson believes that, because he was only a neck behind Beauchamp King in the Craven Stakes at Newmarket on Thursday, he can reverse fortunes next time. (Formula One's version of this argument is Schumacher admitting that he was slower than Hill in practice but almost certain to turn the tables in the race proper).

If those Craven horses had been making their debuts, no-one would ever suggest that Alhaarth could finish ahead on a future occasion. The bookmakers, though, have a lot of liabilities to consider. With financial constraints rumbling along there is an opening for value in the 2,000. Alhaarth is now clearly vincible and, at 10-1 in places Mark Of Esteem, who is holidaying at Sheikh Mohammed's expense in Dubai, looks thunderously good value.

For the even more hopeful there is the promise that Bijou D'Inde will repeat victory in the 2,000 Guineas for the Middleham stable of Mark Johnston, successful two years ago with Mister Baileys. The 25-1 shot worked at Thirsk on Saturday and was hardly castigated by his trainer.

"He worked perfectly," Johnston said. "He did a mile with Jason [Weaver] up, gave Mister Aspecto and Double Diamond a start and beat them comfortably by five lengths. I couldn't be more pleased.

"But he certainly has some questions to answer as he, unlike Mister Baileys, is going into the race off the back of a disappointing run. But, if he's back to the form he showed in Ireland, he'll go well. He's looks back to his best but he's a big, heavy-topped, horse who is difficult to keep fit without overdoing it in a race.''

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