Differences of opinion are racing's lifeblood. To follow racing is to encounter a hundred disputes each day. Even so, there are times when it is hard to believe two people can watch the same race and come to entirely different conclusions as to the worth of the winner.
The people in question yesterday were the odds compilers for William Hill and Victor Chandler, and the race was the European Free Handicap. Cape Town, a dark grey colt trained by Richard Hannon, travelled well, quickened when asked and won by a convincing three and a half lengths. Hills were impressed, and made him 10-1 for the 2,000 Guineas. Victor Chandler, though, were cheerfully laying 20-1.
Which of the quotes is closest to the truth will become apparent two weeks on Saturday, but anyone who can take the 20-1 with Chandler each-way could be on good terms with themselves when they wake up on 2,000 Guineas morning. A week of trials at Newmarket has so far produced a blanket finish in the Greenham and a workmanlike success for Misraah, and the least that can be said of Cape Town's performance yesterday was that it was mercifully clear-cut.
It is hard to argue with the Classic record of his trainer, either. Hannon has already won the 2,000 Guineas three times, with Tirol, Don't Forget Me and Mon Fils, although his more immediate form going into yesterday's race was less encouraging. In the previous 14 days, he had saddled 40 runners, but not a single winner.
The last Free Handicap winner to go on to win the 2,000 Guineas was another grey, Mystiko, in 1991. Yet this is a Classic which seems to lack strength in depth, albeit in advance of today's Craven Stakes and Godolphin's private trials at the weekend. Cape Town will return to Newmarket on 6 May with a convincing win behind him, and had it not been for traffic problems in the Horris Hill Stakes at Newbury last year, he would be unbeaten too.
"The way the trials are working out, why not [run in the Guineas]?" Hannon said. "We'll see what happens in the Craven, but he's a good horse, this fellow. We knew his day would come."
There was an upside to Cape Town's unlucky second in the Horris Hill as far as Hannon was concerned, since the winner was his second-string, Umistim. That one goes in the Craven today, which should at least give his trainer a good line to the worth of the domestic form.
"They're much the same horses," Hannon said, "but this year, with the ground being the way it is, you can't really work them out, you just work them upsides and on the bit. Our all-weather gallop is saturated, it's the worst start to a year I've ever known."
There was a convincing winner too in the Group Three Earl Of Sefton Stakes, though not the one which pre-race odds of 11-10 against Shiva would have suggested. The punters no doubt reasoned Henry Cecil would not have kept an impeccably-bred five-year-old mare in training unless he expected her to be effective this year, but their thinking proved flawed.
Shiva, in fact, was the first beaten, though she may not have been suited by the slow early pace which only picked up with three furlongs to run. It was here that Indian Lodge galloped right away from his field, showing still more improvement on his progressive three-year-old form. Amanda Perrett, his trainer, had no target in mind for Indian Lodge. "He did it very well," Perrett said. "He improved from two to three and we've always thought he would improve again. He is a versatile, tough horse, and we owe him a lot because as well as giving us our first Group win, he supplied us with our first Listed winner."
Alshakr, who won the fillies' maiden, will also be running in good races before long, and so too the day's last winner, Fanaar, who took the Wood Ditton Stakes, the ever-fascinating contest for unraced three-year-olds. Jeremy Noseda, Fanaar's trainer, has long thought him to be one of the best horses in his yard. Even so, Chandler's quote of 25-1 about Fanaar to win the Derby seems very skinny - but that, of course, like everything else, is a matter of opinion.Reuse content