Racing: Path to Guineas left clear for Karen's Caper

It used to be that the Guineas trials at the Craven meeting were unmissable for the top colts and fillies. It used to be that the first Classics themselves were of supreme significance. Those days have gone.

It used to be that the Guineas trials at the Craven meeting were unmissable for the top colts and fillies. It used to be that the first Classics themselves were of supreme significance. Those days have gone.

The world of the Flat operates to a different agenda in the modern era and the principal victim is early-season Headquarters. Small racecourse audiences witness races which are trials in name only.

Kamakiri won the Free Handicap yesterday, but is still available at 33-1 to become the first horse since Mystiko in 1991 to go on to collect the 2,000 Guineas. Odds of 10-1 are around about Karen's Caper, the Nell Gwyn Stakes winner, graduating to success in the 1,000 Guineas, but she faces an even greater historical barrier. No filly has completed that double since Oh So Sharp in 1985.

At least Karen's Caper and yesterday's second, Cape Columbine, will not have much to beat. Their Guineas is considered such small beer that both Divine Proportions and Playful Act, the favourite and third favourite, have been removed from calculations back here on 1 May, as other engagements twinkle more brightly.

The main Nell Gwyn protagonists can carry the qualifier of course form. Karen's Caper appeared to relish the contours yesterday as she swept through when pitted against the rising ground. "She wanted every inch of that seven furlongs," John Gosden, her trainer, reported. "She was in trouble coming out of the dip but she flew up the hill. She's crying out for a mile.

"I think the form is solid because I love the second filly. She routed them here last year when she beat Obe Gold and he did the form no harm in the Free Handicap [second]. It's not phoney form. I think the pair of them will be right there again on the day. They're live Guineas prospects."

In the long term, it may be that Karen's Caper's future lies across the Atlantic. She has already proved her aptitude for all-weather surfaces and is owned by Robert McNair, who has the Houston Texans among his portfolio. The filly is named after the wife of the American football team's head coach, Dom Capers.

There are reasons to back Kamakiri, even if they are not rooted in form. The colt's trainer, Richard Hannon, has won three 2,000 Guineas with horses from the rougher end of town. Nevertheless, connections are hardly bursting with anticipation for the scamper up the Rowley Mile. "On the book he's got a bit to find, but he'll improve 7lb or 8lb. He needed it badly," Richard Hannon jnr, assistant to his father, said.

It will probably transpire that the best beast we saw yesterday, on the racecourse at least, was Norse Dancer, the victor in the Earl of Sefton Stakes. Cleverly constructed defeats have punctuated the career of David Elsworth's colt, but this is not a subject to explore with the trainer.

This may have been just the fourth success of Norse Dancer's life (and two of those have come at Salisbury), yet he has been placed in nine Group Ones and has a healthy bank balance of £550,000 for a supposed choker of a horse.

"People forget this is a game of chance . Some days you get beaten by a better horse," Elsworth said. "He's been beaten in Group Ones by whiskers, yet people doubt his commitment.

"John [Egan, the jockey] said he might have been a little overconfident. They got away from him a bit. A horse with less commitment wouldn't have got there. He stuck his head out."

The best beast of all on display yesterday was Ouija Board, champion filly of last year who was in action on the Polytrack gallop. She reappears in June, in either Epsom's Coronation Cup or Pretty Polly Stakes at the Curragh.

"The King George will probably be on her agenda, or the Nassau," Ed Dunlop, her trainer, said. "And then the Arc - if the going is right - before going for the Breeders' Cup."

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