As the first Classics of the season bear down on us, the massed ranks of Godolphin are back in town and Aidan O'Brien is firing in the Group winners. It's high-powered business as usual. Between them, the two great teams in European racing have won three of the last four 2,000 Guineas and they will again be strongly represented on Saturday.
Ballydoyle loosened off a pre-emptive shot yesterday when Monashee Mountain extended his unbeaten record to four in the Tetrarch Stakes at the Curragh. The colt was priced at 1-3 and behaved like it. He would be an automatic choice for the Rowley Mile in most stables, but then he is from no ordinary setting. O'Brien has two other horses apparently better qualified for the weekend. "You never know what could happen in the meantime to Giant's Causeway and Bernstein, but this horse is an unlikely runner," the trainer said. "Giant's Causeway and Bernstein are both well and we are happy with them, although Bernstein would really need the ground good."
Bernstein will be ridden by Olivier Peslier, who visited Ballydoyle for the first time on Saturday, to ride him in work. The son of Storm Cat is partly the property of Betty Moran, the American owner who is wholly responsible for the Grand National winner Papillon.
A total of 34 entries were confirmed yesterday for the 2,000 Guineas. As expected, Henry Cecil's Shibboleth was taken out, though the Warren Place trainer is still toying with the idea of saddling Western Summer. China Visit, who is in Louisville for the Kentucky Derby, was another anticipated scratching, though his absence does not mean that Godolphin are completely denuded as they attempt to retain the crown they won 12 months ago with Island Sands.
Bachir, Broche, Fath and Glad Master were the Guineas entries among the precious cargo of 34 horses which arrived at the Moulton Paddocks in Newmarket from Arabia yesterday. Their travelling companions included the World Cup winner, Dubai Millennium, River's Curtain, who has recently been nibbled at in the Derby market, and Sunday's 1,000 Guineas considerations Bintalreef and Teggiano.
Godolphin's drawbridge goes down for the first time in Britain this year at Newmarket on Friday, when their expected runners in the Newmarket Stakes should bring them into contention with Henry Cecil's Derby favourite, Beat Hollow.
Two days later, Bintalreef will attempt to replicate her winning form from the Dubai trials. The filly is now down to as low as 7-2 second favourite behind Petrushka, who is 5-4 with the Tote after a workout in the hands of Kieren Fallon on Sunday. A total of 26 fillies were declared for the 1,000 Guineas yesterday, including O'Brien's Alluring and Amethyst.
Petrushka is owned by Highclere Thoroughbred Racing, who have a more speculative representative in the 2,000 Guineas in the shape of Mastermind. He is quoted at 50-1 by William Hill. "He has done tremendously well over the winter and with the Guineas being such an open race this year we thought we'd give it a go," Tim Jones, for the owners, said yesterday. "He deserves to be there. He's not a 50-1 shot."
Petrushka, though, is the big shot. "She worked yesterday and the workwatchers reported she went nicely," Jones said. "All is well and we are looking forward to an exciting week."
Among the horses duelling for the Classic, won 12 months ago by Henry Cecil's Wince, will be Torgau, who won the Cherry Hinton Stakes on home territory for Giles Bravery last year before finishing second to Preseli in the Moyglare Stud Stakes and Seazun in the Cheveley Park Stakes. Olivier Peslier will ride.
"She has done very well over the winter and has put on a bit of weight," Bravery said yesterday. "She took a long time to get rid of her winter coat, which is one of the reasons why we didn't run her in a trial.
"The other reason is that she's no soft-ground horse and the way the weather has been it would have been a pointless exercise running. But the sun is shining now and, with a bit of luck, we should be okay by Sunday.''