The Free Handicap has long been the poor relation of the Craven meeting's trials, but yesterday's renewal turned tradition on its head. The frame may prove to have included not one, or even two, Classic winners, but three, since Citadeed, the next horse home, will now travel to America to contest next month's Kentucky Derby. Harayir's target is the 1,000 Guineas, for which she is now the new favourite at 9-2 (6-1 was on offer shortly after the race, but had disappeared long before Dick Hern's stablehand had finished washing her down).
It was Diffident, though, who was the centre of attention, all the more so when the stopwatch revealed that this little chestnut had carried 9st 5lb to within an instant of the course record. He is now 5-1 for the 2,000 Guineas with Ladbrokes and 8-1 with Coral, but the latter quote is not quite the giveaway it might appear. Ladbrokes are betting "with a run", while the Coral price is all in, run or not. To judge by the comments of Anthony Stroud, Sheikh Mohammed's racing manager, in the winner's enclosure, it could well be not.
With Pennekamp, another Fabre-Mohammed production, already confirmed as a runner back here on 6 May, sending Diffident to the Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2,000 Guineas) might spread the ammunition more sensibly. "I'm not discounting him from the English Guineas at this stage," Stroud said. "It will be the boss's decision. It's something nice to mull over for the next few days."
Even if Diffident runs in Britain, meanwhile, and heads into the final furlong five lengths clear, his backers will be counting every stride to the post. Yesterday's race was over seven furlongs, but the Classic is a mile. With such obvious speed occupying his modest frame, Diffident's chance of staying the extra furlong in a well-run race may be little better than 50-50.
Certainly, the post-race report from Michael Kinane, Diffident's jockey, was less than emphatic. "It was a very good performance," he said. "He settles well and will give himself every chance of getting the mile, but that will be his limit for sure." At 5-1, it may not be a chance which many punters will take.
Harayir, though, is a definite runner in the 1,000 Guineas, and may still be a worthwhile investment even at 9-2. She was giving 2lb to Diffident, which may prove to have been an impossible assignment, and sentimental cash alone may force her price down a couple of points more on the day -few backers, after all, would begrudge Dick Hern another Classic.
Fate has landed some very low blows on Hern in recent years, but his talent continues to laugh at the obituarists. Despite physical disability and enforced displacement from his old West Ilsley stable, there are still few trainers who can match him at preparing a horse for the finest events. Highclere, in 1974, is his only winner of the first fillies' Classic to date. With Ladbrokes ante-post odds now reading 3-1 Harayir, 4-1 Moonshell, 10-1 bar, the second is within reach.
It was not just the Free Handicap's placed horses, meanwhile, who offered promise for the future. Bin Nashwan was going well two furlongs out until his lack of pace was exposed, but he should be a useful performer when stepped up to the middle distances he clearly needs. Look out too for Kazaki, beaten favourite for the Wood Ditton Stakes. Money lost at 8-11 yesterday will be retrieved when he learns his trade.
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