Racing: Haafhd answers every call in Guineas test

Two weeks before the marauders from Dubai and Ireland arrive in search of 2,000 Guineas booty the bonfires were lit on Britain's cliffs here yesterday by Haafhd in the Craven Stakes.

Two weeks before the marauders from Dubai and Ireland arrive in search of 2,000 Guineas booty the bonfires were lit on Britain's cliffs here yesterday by Haafhd in the Craven Stakes.

Newmarket's premier qualification for the 2,000 Guineas has become debased currency in recent years, the more significant manoeuvres taking place on the trial grounds of teams Godolphin and Ballydoyle. Yesterday, though, there appeared to be a Craven victor to celebrate. Haafhd, who is trained at Lambourn by Barry Hills, bolted in by five lengths and down to as short as 5-1 for the first Classic.

Yet only on May Day will we discover whether Haafhd was fast yesterday or his four rivals just plain slow. The first loser was the sorry Three Valleys. Roger Charlton's colt pulled horribly and gave himself no chance of either staying the mile or mounting any sort of compelling challenge. Hills, at least, has no doubts about Haafhd's capability. "He's a good horse and always has been," he said. "In fact, he's as good as I've had over that distance." That sentiment elevates Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum's chestnut to the level of such as Distant Relative, Distant Music, and Hills' 1979 Guineas winner, Tap On Wood.

Haafhd was a composed figure in the paddock, walking around lazily and a contrast to the more twitchy Three Valleys. The latter looked like a sprinter, behaved like a sprinter and, ultimately, ran like one. Three Valleys looked as though he might run right over the top of pacemaking Haafhd in the early stages, becoming involved in a destructive wrestle with Richard Hughes. There was no deviation in order until three furlongs out, where Richard Hills decided there would be no hesitation either. The jockey started turning the knobs and Haafhd started to turn the screw.

At the line the others were a bedraggled lot, Three Valleys being followed home by Peak To Creek, a rather spooky result considering the race sponsor was the online betting firm bet365, the racecard numbers of the first three home. It was a belief that Hills the rider had stolen the race, given Haafhd breathers in front and then kicked when the others least expected. The reality seemed to be that not only were the jockey's tactics superior, so was his horse. Hills himself said there was little cleverness on his part. "It was a pretty even gallop and I picked it up from three out," he said. "I wanted to make it a proper race, not just to nick it because we want to win a Guineas in two weeks' time. He's passed his first test and he's going to come on in the next two weeks."

Sheikh Hamdan now has a plural of riches. Mukafeh and So Will I run in his colours in the Greenham Stakes at Newbury tomorrow and Iqte Saab, a winner here on Tuesday, is already in the mix. The leader of the gang, though, is the one which scampered effectively over the Rowley Mile yesterday.

"Iqte Saab has got a lot of natural speed as well, but this was probably more of a test because it was against better horses," Richard Hills said. "I don't think you could have asked for much more."

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