Racing: O'Brien rivals still fear George Washington

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The Independent Online

Three days before he saddles the favourite for the 2,000 Guineas, Aidan O'Brien was given a vote of confidence by his greatest rival. It has been well-documented that a colt has yet to emerge victorious from Ballydoyle this season, and that the Co Tipperary fastness is on a run of 24 losers, but fans of George Washington need not fret, according to Godolphin's racing manager Simon Crisford.

"I wouldn't worry for a moment," said Crisford yesterday, "Without any question a horse like George Washington will be absolutely right on the day. Aidan knows exactly what he is doing." Given the Irishman's Guineas record - three colts' races and one fillies' in the past eight years, including both 12 months ago - that is a reasonable assessment. But Godolphin's tally is not so dusty either: two of each in the last 10 years. And the mood in the blues' camp before the Classic weekend in Newmarket is of optimism, though tempered with realism.

The Godolphin candidates, Opera Cape in the 2,000 Guineas and Silca's Sister in the 1,000 Guineas, were both of high enough class as juveniles to be headhunted. But, on the book, both were short of the best last term and Crisford is more hopeful than confident of adding to Mark Of Esteem and Island Sands' victories on Saturday or Cape Verdi and Kazzia's on Sunday. "We were bullish this time last year," said Crisford, "when we had Dubawi. And although he was undone by the firm ground, subsequent events proved us right about him being right out of the top drawer. But this time there are more reservations.

"But, having said that, there is no doubt that both horses thoroughly deserve their places in the Classic fields. Both are in very good form and have done nothing but please us all winter."

Opera Cape, who was trained by Sylvester Kirk last year, progressed steadily through his first season and the form of his first Group win, in the Solario Stakes, stands particularly close scrutiny, for the two who chased him home were Yasoodd and Asset, winners of trials at Leopardstown and Kempton respectively last month. The sturdy bay son of Barathea ended his season with two Group One places, second to Horatio Nelson in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere and third to Sir Percy and his Longchamp conqueror in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket, just over a length behind the colt perceived as the Ballydoyle number two for the Guineas on both occasions. "Yes, on that showing he will have to improve," admitted Crisford, "and perhaps even the advantage of the winter in Dubai will not be enough to help if you haven't got the right kit to start with. But he is well forward, and is a lovely solid horse." Silca's Sister is already a top-level winner, having beaten the colts in the Prix Morny when with Mick Channon. The gentle, relaxed Inchinor chestnut, angular last year, has made marked physical progress and looked on excellent terms with herself in exercise in Newmarket yesterday.

A warm, breezy day produced drying conditions in headquarters, although thundery rain showers are forecast tomorrow. "Our will go on faster ground," said Crisford, "but any rain would help, as they're better with a bit of ease."

Saturday will mark the first Godolphin runners of the year in Britain, although Saeed bin Suroor's team flew sky-high at Nad Al Sheba earlier in the year. "It went well with Discreet Cat and Electrocutionist," added Crisford, "but of course Europe is a different story. But whatever happens at the weekend, it is only the start. There are always swings and roundabouts and it will all be better judged at close of play at the end of the season."

At Lingfield yesterday, O'Brien's stable jockey Kieren Fallon implied that Crisford's nod to the talents of racing's other superpower was not misplaced. "Our horses have been slow to come to hand but they've been running ok," he said. "We'll just have to wait and see how we do at Newmarket, but we're pretty confident. I was certainly confident last year about Footstepsinthesand, and I have a similar feeling about George Washington. If I had to nominate a danger it would be Horatio Nelson."

Fallon also has a fondness for the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Cover Up, whom he produced with inch-perfect timing to take the Sagaro Stakes at the Surrey track. The sterling nine-year-old earns his corn both as a lead horse and a racehorse.

Chris McGrath

Nap: Lord Nellerie

(Hereford 5.10)

NB: Loch Verdi

(Folkestone 3.00)