When the favourite for the 2,000 Guineas is entered for a major Classic trial, can spring and summer be far behind? Sadly, the answer seems to be yes, for while Distant Music, not to mention the talking horse Misraah, were among 22 entries yesterday for the Greenham Stakes at Newbury on Saturday, the deluge forecast for much of the country over the next few days may well keep the best horses at home.
Distant Music has not run since completing his unbeaten juvenile season in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket in October. Brahms, who finished second that day, is also among the Greenham entries, along with Rossini, his stablemate at Aidan O'Brien's yard. Rossini finished second to Distant Music in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster, so one way or another, if Distant Music runs, O'Brien may hope to glean a fair idea of how much, if at all, the Guineas favourite has improved over the winter.
Both O'Brien colts are also entered in a Classic trial at Leopardstown the following day and the weather will be all important in deciding whether many of the entries run. Ekraar, winner of the Champagne Stakes at Goodwood and third to Aristotle in the Racing Post Trophy, is another who is most unlikely to compete first time up on a bog with only three weeks to the Guineas itself.
Distant Music is the only official Group One winner in the Greenham field, but many will feel that Barathea Guest, who was disqualified from the Grand Criterium at Longchamp in October, would go to Newbury as a Group One winner without a penalty. George Margarson's colt was clearly the best horse on the day, but was thrown out by the stewards for hampering Ciro, the runner-up, as they turned into the straight.
The Craven Stakes at Newmarket next week is the prime target for Barathea Guest, but the enterprising Margarson has entered him for Newbury "because the forecast is so horrendous, it might frighten them all away, and if it ends up a four-horse race, you'd look silly if you didn't enter when you've got a chance to win £40,000."
With just 30 horses in his Newmarket yard, Margarson is desperately under-resourced in comparison to some of his neighbours. As he says, however, "I use the same gallops as Henry Cecil, and they're nearer to my back garden than they are to his," and there is no shortage of confidence behind Barathea Guest.
"He's really well in himself," the trainer says, "and he's improved enormously, mentally and physically. He was always a big horse, and he did well at two - he won four out of five - though nobody really took a great deal of notice.
"I thought I'd enter him for the Greenham over seven furlongs, though I'd sooner go for the mile trip in the Craven. The only worry I had about the Craven was that it's a bit close to the Guineas and I wouldn't want him having a hard race two weeks before. But the way he's working, I don't think he'd have a hard race. I think he's improved a good 10lb, and I'm really looking forward to running him."
Barathea Guest is a 40-1 chance for the Classic, 160 points shorter than Margarson's last runner in the race, Speedfit Too. Despite starting at 200-1, Speedfit Too was beaten less than seven lengths by King Of Kings at Newmarket two years ago, and his trainer is confident that Barathea Guest "would eat him for breakfast".
It would be refreshing to see one of Flat racing's smaller yards beating the likes of Godolphin and Aidan O'Brien in the Newmarket Classic, and stranger things have happened. Those who prefer the racing for racing's sake of the winter code, though, are running out of time as far as this campaign is concerned, with effectively only the Scottish National at Ayr this weekend, and the Whitbread Gold Cup at Sandown, still to look forward to.
Young Kenny, who fell at the 10th in the Grand National, is at the head of the 39 entries for the Scottish National, which he won last year. Edmond, the Welsh National winner, who missed Aintree because of the fast going, is expected to take his place at Ayr. Marlborough, who won the William Hill Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, is another intended runner, while Cavalero, who was first substitute for the Grand National, could also line up.Reuse content