O'Brien's speed machine may not go distance

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The Independent Online

The 2,000 Guineas acquired its third favourite in as many weeks after Johannesburg charged away from his field in the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket yesterday, but while some bookies are now as short as 4-1 about Aidan O'Brien's colt for the Classic next spring, this was a performance which left several puzzles nagging at the mind. Johannesburg's six wins from six races, half of them in Group One events, is a magnificent season, even by Ballydoyle's standards. To win a Classic, however, he must stay a mile in a truly run race with an uphill finish, and if anything yesterday's race suggested that he will struggle to do so.

At the very least, anyone thinking of backing Johannesburg for the Guineas would be reckless to do so, even at the 6-1 offered by Hills and Ladbrokes, before his next outing, which O'Brien suggested might be the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Belmont Park in three weeks' time. That race, over eight and a half furlongs on energy-sapping dirt, would prove whether the exuberant dose of speed in Johannesburg's genes has left any room for stamina.

Mick Kinane travelled so easily behind the good pace set by Line Rider yesterday that the race was as good as won by half-way. He picked up the leader on the bit, and then quickened away to beat Zipping by three lengths with Doc Holiday, a 40-1 chance, back in third. "He told me he was ready to go and so I just let him get on with it," the jockey said. "He was running all the way to the line, and though Hennessy's stock are usually best at six furlongs, we started him at six and he shapes like he'll certainly get further."

Johannesburg was either the clear or joint-favourite for next year's Classic with most bookmakers before Kinane had even weighed in. Ladbrokes, though, make Hawk Wing, another of O'Brien's, their market leader at 5-1, and their line to the latest thinking at Ballydoyle, via PR man Mike Dillon, is generally pretty reliable.

"The plan before today was that if everything went well, we'd have a look at the Breeders' Cup Juvenile," O'Brien said. "Mick said that going to the line he was like a tiger, he was giving him his all."

It is 10 years since Rodrigo De Triano took the Middle Park on the way to the Guineas, though, and sooner or later the majority of its winners end up in sprints, as O'Brien himself knows only too well. Minardi won the Middle Park for the same trainer, owner and jockey 12 months ago, but was found wanting in each of his races over a mile this year. He was most recently seen down the field in desperate ground in the Sprint Cup at Haydock.

One race which O'Brien does not need to worry about is the one to be Britain's champion trainer. Between them, Johannesburg and Beckett, who won the Joel Stakes, added another £103,000 to his prize-money total yesterday (while Century City picked up £900 for third place in the maiden), and he is now less than £2,000 shy of £3m for the season. Sir Michael Stoute, his nearest rival, is almost £1m adrift.

Della Francesca could set O'Brien on the way to his fourth million in the Somerville Tattersall Stakes at Newmarket today, though probably only via some place money, since SOHAIB (nap 2.55) is better than his run at Doncaster last time when he raced too freely in the early stages. Marweh (2.20), who has dropped 6lb since his last run, and Swordplay (next best 3.25) also catch the eye, although many punters may prefer to keep their money safe as they prepare for the dawn of the tax-free age tomorrow.

Bets on the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe have been tax-free for weeks, and backers have four new names to consider after yesterday's supplementary stage. Saddler's Creek has been added to set the pace for Milan, the St Leger winner, but Foreign Affairs, trained by Sir Mark Prescott, Idaho, the runner-up in the Prix Foy, and Diamilina, from André Fabre's yard, are all contenders, though not in the front rank of the betting. Foreign Affairs is a 25-1 chance with the Tote, who offer 20-1 against Diamilina, runner-up to Aquarelliste in the Prix Vermeille.

2,000 GUINEAS: William Hill: 6-1 Dubai Destination, Hawk Wing, Johannesburg (from 8-1), 20-1 Comfy, Meshaheer, Rock Of Gibraltar, 25-1 Hills Of Gold, Naheef, 33-1 others. Ladbrokes: 5-1 Hawk Wing, 6-1 Dubai Destination, Johannesburg (from 8-1), 20-1 Right Approach, Comfy, Expected Bonus, Rock Of Gibraltar, 25-1 Dubai Excellence, Meshaheer, Naheef, Official Flame, 33-1 others. Tote: 5-1 Dubai Destination, Johannesburg, 7-1 Hawk Wing, 16-1 Comfy, 25-1 Rock Of Gibraltar, Naheef, Meshaheer, Flat Spin, Roar Of The Tiger, 33-1 others.

BREEDERS' CUP JUVENILE: Coral: 2-1 Officer, 5-1 Came Home, Johannesburg, 12-1 Essence Of Dubai, Kamsack, Imperial Gesture, 16-1 Ibn Al Haitham, Siphonic, Jump Start, Heavyweight Champ, 20-1 others.

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