Racing: High rollers raise stakes as 20 line up for Guineas

Cards were placed face up on the table yesterday as the players at racing's top table showed their hands for the season's first Classic, tomorrow's 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket. There were no surprise absentees and the usual high-rollers sit comfortably in front of large piles of chips. But such is the way talent is dealt, that despised pair of twos may yet turn out to be better than the royal flush. And the fact that 20 runners, well above the average number over the past 20 years, are scheduled to go to post for the 186th running of the Rowley Mile showpiece, can be taken as an indication that out there are plenty of Fast Eddie Felsons.

Cards were placed face up on the table yesterday as the players at racing's top table showed their hands for the season's first Classic, tomorrow's 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket. There were no surprise absentees and the usual high-rollers sit comfortably in front of large piles of chips. But such is the way talent is dealt, that despised pair of twos may yet turn out to be better than the royal flush. And the fact that 20 runners, well above the average number over the past 20 years, are scheduled to go to post for the 186th running of the Rowley Mile showpiece, can be taken as an indication that out there are plenty of Fast Eddie Felsons.

The Ballydoyle ace appears to be the ante-post favourite, Hold That Tiger, winner of last year's Grand Criterium and choice of Mick Kinane on his seasonal debut, but of course 12 months ago the perceived superstar was beaten by the so-called workman and tomorrow the match-fit Tomahawk is the back-up.

The Godolphin team has narrowed its challenge to two, the once-raced close season recruit Lateen Sails (Frankie Dettori's choice) and Songlark, runner-up in the UAE Derby on dirt last month and well backed yesterday. The rain that has been easing the Newmarket going all week, and the further precipitation that is forecast for today, has convinced Dermot Weld to let Refuse To Bend, for whom a mile is the minimum requirement, take his chance.

Richard Hannon, whose three previous victories (Mon Fils, Don't Forget Me and Tirol) give him the best record of any trainer with a runner this year, is mob-handed with a quartet; Mick Channon runs three. John Dunlop, winner of three 1,000 Guineas but still a 2,000 virgin, will be represented by Muqbil.

Tout Seul, trained by Fulke Johnson-Houghton, carries the burden of being the highest-rated juvenile in the field on the strength of the Dewhurst Stakes victory that followed a second in apparently more modest company at Redcar.

Yesterday brought fighting talk from one of the hustlers trying to take Tipperary Fats and the others. Bryan Smart trains rank outsider Monsieur Bond, who cost 10,000 guineas as a foal to Hold That Tiger's $1 million. "It makes me laugh that mine is 100-1," he said, "when Tout Seul beat us only three-quarters of a length, getting 3lb, at Redcar. And one of Mick Channon's, Zafeen, beat us only a neck in a Group Two.

"The ground was plenty quick when ours was third in the trial at Thirsk last month and the bit of juice there looks like being in the ground at Newmarket should suit us. He wasn't properly wound up that day anyway and got into a bit of a shemozzle in running. I'm over the moon with him now, its one of the most open Guineas for years and I'm looking forward to a big run." The last 100-1 shot to make the frame was Bellefella 15 years ago.

A year ago the draw for starting places was deemed significant when Hawk Wing, racing up the centre of the course, failed to catch Rock of Gibraltar, in a group on the far side where the ground appeared to be riding faster.

Tomorrow's Aidan O'Brien pair are likewise drawn apart, Tomahawk in berth two near the stands rails and Hold That Tiger 16. Most of the market leaders – like Lateen Sails (20), Refuse To Bend (18), Tout Seul (17) and Muqbil (11) are in the top half.

Apparent draw bias may be as much a function of pace and tactics as underfoot conditions but today's opening afternoon of the three-day Guineas meeting may provide some clues for both racegoers and jockeys.

Although the Group One action is confined to tomorrow and Sunday (1,000 Guineas), you never know what you might see today. Last year's Jockey Club Stakes produced the subsequent Arc winner, Marienbard; this afternoon Bandari (2.20), of whom great things are also expected this term, can better old rival Highest.

Twelve months ago Highdown beat the subsequent Dubai World Cup hero Moon Ballad in the Newmarket Stakes. This time Dust Cover (1.45) can progress from a good effort at Kempton to see off the Derby entries Hilbre Island and Splendid Era.

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