Racing: O'Brien fails to gain impetus from Ace

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With just four days left in the countdown to the 198th 2,000 Guineas, the stable that houses the hot favourite continued its fruitless run of form yesterday. Aidan O'Brien has yet to saddle a colt to victory this season and although that situation has the opportunity of changing at Tipperary on Thursday it may be that by Saturday it will require a huge leap of faith to envisage either George Washington or his back-up Horatio Nelson as winner of the season's first Classic.

O'Brien has sent out just two winners this term, Sacrosanct and Kamarinskaya at Leopardstown 17 days ago. The horses from Ballydoyle have not been running dreadfully badly, more in the needed-the-race, run-out-of-puff style of a team that has not yet come to itself. The 26 runners have produced 12 placees, including three-year-old Hurricane Run and five-year-old Ace at the Curragh yesterday.

The Ballydoyle's maestro's early doors strike-rate stands at 7.6 per cent. That is not the worst, though, of the 12 trainers still involved with the 18 runners left in the 2,000 Guineas at yesterday's penultimate declaration stage. That dubious distinction goes to Bryan Smart, on four winners from 72 runners, or 5.4 per cent. Smart's candidate is his sole three-year-old success, Misu Bond, winner of the Free Handicap last month over seven furlongs of the Rowley Mile. "He's come on for that run," said Smart of the Danehill Dancer colt. "I'm glad I got a run into him because you need to be on your mettle in a race like this."

Two share O'Brien's winners-to-runners ratio, Hughie Morrison and Jeremy Noseda, but at least the last-named's three winners this term have all been three-year-olds over a mile. Noseda relies on Araafa, who will be making his seasonal debut.

The Guineas men who have sent out most winners this term are Kevin Ryan, who brought his score to 30 yesterday and sends Middle Park Stakes winner Amadeus Wolf to the fray, and Richard Hannon, who has Asset for the big one and sent out his 24th winner yesterday. Their strike- rates of 14 per cent, however, are eclipsed by both Terry Mills (20.6) and Sir Michael Stoute (23.5) who have Close To You and Final Verse, respectively, engaged on Saturday.

O'Brien, who has won three of the last eight Guineas, may lead one statistic in the upcoming renewal, in that he still has a team of five entered: as well as George Washington, the 2-1 favourite with sponsors Stan James, and Horatio Nelson there are Frost Giant, James Joyce and Amadeus Mozart, unplaced at the Curragh yesterday. Stable jockey Kieren Fallon will have first pick, with Johnny Murtagh next in line.

"I'm not sure what I'll be on because the plans aren't finalised yet," said Murtagh yesterday, "but a second string for Aidan is as good as a first string for anyone else." Too right; four years ago Murtagh won on Rock Of Gibraltar, beating his stablemate, and favourite, Hawk Wing.

Barry Hills, with three possibles in Killybegs, Red Clubs and Olympian Odyssey, is operating at 13.4 per cent and Marcus Tregoning, whose Dewhurst winner Sir Percy splits the Ballydoyle pair in the betting, at 13 per cent. The one blank canvas is that of Opera Cape's trainer Saeed Bin Suroor, who is likely to send out the Godolphin team's first British runner of the campaign, Belenus, at Lingfield tomorrow.

There are also 18 fillies left in Sunday's 1,000 Guineas, with O'Brien fielding the favourite, Rumplestiltskin, as well as Race For The Stars (paid a compliment by the victory of Sharapova at the Curragh yesterday) and Kamarinskaya.

Rain in Newmarket yesterday morning was followed by a bright, breezy afternoon, with good ground on the racetrack. "It's a beautiful surface out there now," said clerk of the course Michael Prosser, "and with some thundery showers forecast, we have no intention of watering."

Chris McGrath

Nap: Cross The Line (Kempton 8.24)

NB: Mannikko

(Bath 5.00)