Racing: Haafhd way to happiness

2,000 Guineas: Hills family affair as son Richard drives the pride of father Barry's yard to Classic joy

One of the unfailing attractions of this game is its continuity; the fact that, although an individual event can stand alone as a spectacle, specific threads can be traced through the tapestry of history. And yesterday's 196th 2,000 Guineas was very much a case in point.

One of the unfailing attractions of this game is its continuity; the fact that, although an individual event can stand alone as a spectacle, specific threads can be traced through the tapestry of history. And yesterday's 196th 2,000 Guineas was very much a case in point.

The winner, Haafhd, provided trainer Barry Hills with his second edition of the race, the first being Tap On Wood's 25 years ago. Haafhd set his own Rowley Mile family record straight, avenging the whisker defeat of his dam, Al Bahathri, in the filly Guineas in 1985.

And 79-year-old Snowy Outen, a linchpin in Hills' employ since the year dot, finally got to lead up every stable lad's dream, a Classic winner.

Visually, it was a curious contest, but one run at a true gallop. As the 14 runners broke from the stalls, misty in the distance on a chilly, grey afternoon, they did not form a pack, but progressed as individuals up the broad, straight course.

Barbajuan and the two pacemakers, Tumblebrutus for Ballydoyle and Golden Sahara for Godolphin, were the trio forming a widely spaced front rank in the early exchanges.

Haafhd, ridden by the trainer's son, Richard, was one of those in Golden Sahara's wake, never worse than fourth. Once Hills pressed the button going past the Bushes, Sheikh Hamdan's home-bred chestnut lengthened his stride down the incline into the dip and kept up his relentless gallop on the climb to the winning post. His nearest pursuer at the line, a length and three-quarters adrift, was the Godolphin No 1, Snow Ridge, with staying-on Irish raider Azamour a length away third, a head in front of his compatriot Grey Swallow.

Whipper, for France, came in fifth and Salford City sixth.

"This is a very good horse," said the winning rider. "It was a strange Guineas, as the runners were spread all over the course, but I just concentrated on getting Haafhd into a rhythm. He wanted to go after the ones in front, but I didn't want him to be doing too much. They knocked him after he won his trial here, but he's proved his worth today."

As far as Hills Snr is concerned, Haafhd, who burst on to the top-level scene with his wide-margin victory in last month's Craven Stakes here, is the real deal, the best miler he has ever trained. "Tap On Wood's Guineas was a very decent one - he beat Kris and Young Generation - and this horse had been working his equal at home, so I knew he had a terrific chance today. He's actually a trainer's dream, so laid-back, with a great attitude to life. We had an easy winter with the horses, but a rotten spring, and it was a relief to us all in the yard that everything went like clockwork after the horse won his trial here last month."

Haafhd stood out in the preliminaries, not so much for his physique - he is built on long, low lines - but for the wellbeing that emanated from the ripple of muscle beneath his sleek, glowing, golden hide. His condition did the man who cares for him daily proud. "I gave up riding when I was 70," said Outen, who previously came closest to a Classic win when Berkeley Springs was beaten a neck in the 1,000 Guineas in 1966, "but I'm not ready to retire."

The Lambourn-based Hills, 67, is one of the shrewdest trainers in the business, with victories in most of Europe's top races on his CV. Yesterday's gave him special pleasure, in that it was the first he had shared with the younger of his twin sons. "It was my sweetest moment in racing since I won the 1973 Arc with Rheingold," he said.

The one trophy missing from the Hills mantelpiece is the one for the Derby, but it is unlikely that Haafhd, whose name means "protector" in Arabic, will remedy the omission. The son of Alhaarth neither runs like or is bred to be a top 12-furlong performer, and although he was inserted into Epsom lists at around 8-1 by bookmakers, his next day of days is likely to be the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot next month. "He might get 10 furlongs," said Hills, "but probably later on in the year."

But the runner-up Snow Ridge ran a fine blue riband trial and is now third favourite, behind Yeats and American Post. The Indian Ridge colt, an elegant, dark bay with a long, sweeping tail, was staying on strongly at the end. "Straight to the Derby now," confirmed Sheikh Mohammed.

But yesterday's 15-8 favourite, One Cool Cat, Yeat's Ballydoyle stablemate, flopped completely, under pressure from halfway and virtually pulled up in the end, cantering past the post with Golden Sahara at the tail of the field. It was reported that his heartbeat was irregular after the race.

RACE DETAILS

1 Haafhd R Hills 11-2
2 Snow Ridge L Dettori 8-1
3 Azamour M J Kinane 25-1

Trainer: B Hills
Owner: H Al Maktoum
Distances: 1 3/4l, 1l
Favourite: One Cool Cat 15-8

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