Racing: Salford City can lift Guineas to lighten Elsworth's gloom

It is a relatively spindly gathering for such an old and generous prize, but when the field for the opening Classic of the season, the 2,000 Guineas, sets off at Newmarket this afternoon it will number just 14, the smallest collection since 1996.

It is a relatively spindly gathering for such an old and generous prize, but when the field for the opening Classic of the season, the 2,000 Guineas, sets off at Newmarket this afternoon it will number just 14, the smallest collection since 1996.

You might think the runners would stay together, huddled for company in such circumstances, but the strong suspicion, with the stalls placed in the centre of the course, is that the field will split into two. Hard luck stories are waiting to be penned.

David Elsworth has produced a best-seller in that department this week and if there is to be divergence down the Rowley Mile today he hopes it will also include his luck.

Three days after Persian Punch's death at Ascot, the trainer can at least concentrate his mind on one of the few treasures to have eluded him in a gilded career: a British Classic.

Salford City is not a nominally regal racehorse, but, like Persian Punch, there is something majestic about his attitude, perhaps one derived from his unbeaten record. He has run just twice, both times at Newbury, both times in stunning victory.

"When they go on a racecourse sometimes a side of them you've never seen before appears," Elsworth says, "but this horse took his debut in his stride and won by seven lengths in a canter. He walked back to the winners' enclosure and wouldn't have blown a candle out. By the time the presentation was finished he was dry.

"He never got out of second gear then and he was most authoritative when he went back for the Greenham. He only had to be picked up for 100 yards so he was only racing for a furlong.

"He's got a great deal of confidence because he doesn't know what it's like to come off second best in a confrontation. He's always won. He's never been put under any stress and that's given him that confidence."

Now another peak appears for the bold climber as the best young milers in Europe gather to do battle. One Cool Cat is, and has been for some time, the favourite, from the moment he was identified as the principal contestant from Aidan O'Brien's yard. The colt has won four races, but beaten little, and his supporters are punting on connections as much as the horse.

Haafhd is also high up the lists, almost solely on the evidence of his runaway success in the Craven Stakes over course and distance. Barry Hills's colt was dealt the best hand that day and will not be allowed to dominate so completely this time. The ground, which will probably be on the soft side of good, is unlikely to be an ally either.

Snow Ridge is the Godolphin head man, the colt which scooted in by 10 lengths in the desert trial at Nad Al Sheba. That form is still being analysed at a top laboratory amid the general view that if Snow Ridge is to win a Classic it might be the one where they have a funfair.

More persuasive are the qualifications of the French horse, the one with the identity crisis as his name seems to suggest he thinks he is the jockey. Whipper, who won the Prix Morny last season, will go on the ground and has already scooped up the Prix Djebel on his reappearance at Maisons-Laffitte.

Yet this is a Guineas when benign forces can come into play. Salford City (nap 2.55) would be past the post if a popular vote was the criterion. His form and aptitude for the task are barely less substantial.

The ones to ignore in tomorrow's 1,000 Guineas are Attraction and Majestic Desert. The former has been injured and this will be her first and last race over a mile, while Majestic Desert was the beneficiary of an optical illusion in her trial, the Fred Darling Stakes. She battled well, admittedly, but her time was without merit.

Red Bloom is clear favourite even though she went through an injury scare earlier this week. Punters will remember the dark words which surrounded her stablemate Russian Rhythm 12 months ago before she pounced on this race.

The sensible bet though is Sundrop (2.40), who was just over a length behind Red Bloom in the Fillies' Mile at Ascot last autumn after a stormy passage. She is bred more than stoutly enough for a trip which will take some getting and represents the value at four times the price.

The Americans stage what they consider an event of unsurpassable consequence this evening, when a garland of roses awaits the winner of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. It is recognised to be one of the most open Derbys in years, but the advantage seems to lie with The Cliff's Edge (11.04) who has an edge of his own in form and stalls position.

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