Racing: Spectre of Stoute overshadows Bond ambition

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The betting on the first Classic of the season was neither shaken nor stirred by the success of Misu Bond here yesterday. True, his trainer was rubbing his hands over the prospect of coming back with two runners in the Stan James 2,000 Guineas, a fortnight on Saturday. "Good, isn't it?" Bryan Smart said. "Northern trainer going to war!"

But the chances are that Misu Bond and his stablemate, Sir Xaar, are straying innocently into the sights of a familiar villain. The man with the cat on his lap is Sir Michael Stoute, and today he swivels round to his desk and reaches for that ominous red button.

City Of Troy retains explosive potential, despite meeting his first defeat in the Royal Lodge Stakes here last autumn. On the most interesting card of the new season, he could well outclass Sir Xaar and the rest in the Unicorn Craven Stakes over the Guineas course and distance.

It is fashionable nowadays to say that the Classic trials have become hopelessly unfashionable, but nobody has dared tell the champion trainer. Stoute knows that you cannot be dogmatic with horses. In 1999, he won the Guineas first time out with the inexperienced Golan. The following year, he felt that King's Best needed to draw the cork in the Craven, where he was beaten, before pouring the champagne in the Guineas.

This year, he will have been delighted that all eyes and ears have been turned obediently towards Ballydoyle, home of the champion juvenile of 2005, George Washington. But City Of Troy - who is in the same ownership - could yet prove a real Trojan horse, wheeled quietly on to the Rowley Mile from the other end of Newmarket high street.

He certainly looked a colt with a future winning his first two starts last year, when palpably raw, only to run a rather timid race in the Royal Lodge. As things turned out, he can be easily exonerated. "He was lame behind and had torn a muscle," Stoute said yesterday. "But that's all behind him, and now he has to go on. The stable has been going fairly well so far and I'd say he's in pretty good shape for this race. His preparation has gone very well."

Stoute had Notnowcato sufficiently forward yesterday to resume the rapid progress he made last autumn in the Weatherbys Earl of Sefton Stakes - it would be no surprise to see this colt joining the élite by midsummer - and City Of Troy should be quite a sight when the blanket is pulled off today.

The Grand Lodge colt seems certain to have made plenty of progress physically, having looked something of a hulk last year, and it will be fascinating to see how he measures up against this field. It seems possible that a prominent show from either Mulaqat or Gin Jockey would reflect chiefly on the Guineas prospects of their respective stablemates, Sir Percy and Asset.

As for Sir Xaar, he is by no means certain to stay the trip and his trainer will do well to thwart Stoute a second time. In truth, Smart was fortunate to deny him the Bansha House Stables European Free Handicap, as Michael Kinane was forced to delay his challenge on Jeremy while Tony Culhane pressed for home on Misu Bond. There was only a neck in it at the line.

Stoute is not deceived that Jeremy himself might be a Guineas colt, and the sponsors accordingly offer 50-1 against Misu Bond. Smart himself had taken twice those odds in the morning, emboldened by the memory of Monsieur Bond's performance in the classic three years ago. He, too, had been dismissed as a rank outsider but managed sixth despite meeting heavy traffic. "He was only beaten a couple of lengths and this horse is as good as him," Smart said.

Misu Bond - yet another feather in the cap of Danehill Dancer - contrived to lose one shoe in the pre- parade ring and another at the start. "The farrier has done a fantastic job and I have to thank him," Smart said. "He's a very clumsy horse, a bit thick, and it didn't surprise me when he stood on himself and pulled his shoe off again. He's a bit of a goon, but believe me he's decent."

l Monkerhostin took the lead in the British Horseracing Board's Order Of Merit title, and now leads Royal Shakespeare by two points, after finishing third in the Faucets For Mira Showers Silver Trophy Chase at Cheltenham yesterday.