Racing: Story's Champagne win strengthens Johnston's juvenile hand

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Lucky story produced a performance of remarkable tenacity to take the Champagne Stakes here yesterday and earn promotion to joint third-favouritism for next year's 2,000 Guineas. He is now a 14-1 chance with Ladbrokes alongside his stable companion Pearl Of Love.

The Mark Johnston-trained colt took the advantage from the start and fought off all challengers to land the Group Two contest. The winner's time was nothing out of the ordinary, but it was the manner of his success that impressed. The 2-1 chance looked likely to capitulate when the odds-on Haafhd drew alongside two furlongs out. Having survived that threat, Lucky Story then had to hold the late thrust of Auditorium, who got to within a neck of the winner under the full Kieren Fallon drive.

"He's still a baby and very laid back. He's not as streetwise as you would think," Darryll Holland, the winning rider, said. "But he is very, very gutsy and his heart is in the right place." Holland refused to be drawn into a comparison with Pearl Of Love, who runs at the Curragh tomorrow. "If you asked me to split them, I couldn't," he said.

Johnston is at the Keeneland Sales, where he purchased Lucky Story for $90,000 a year ago, and it was his wife and assistant trainer, Deirdre, who outlined plans for the colt. "Now we will have to run him in a Group One to get a real pace for him," she said. "There are three options - the Dewhurst, the Grand Criterium or the Racing Post Trophy. I know that Mark has had the Racing Post Trophy in mind for a long time."

Chris Richardson, managing director of Cheveley Park Stud, which owns the runner-up, was delighted with Auditorium's performance. "He wasn't suited by the ground and was unbalanced, but he has run very well and he is an exciting horse for next year," he said.

"We paid £12,000 to supplement him and got a bit nervous when the ground changed, but we have got more than double that back for finishing second."

Haafhd's trainer, Barry Hills, said: "It has been very firm at home and I haven't been hard on him. I'd like a clear run at the Dewhurst now. In my heart I know he could have been fitter today, but you have got to look after them."

2,000 Guineas (Newmarket, 1 May 2004), Ladbrokes: 4-1 One Cool Cat, 10-1 Three Valleys, 14-1 (from 16-1) Lucky Story, Pearl Of Love, 16-1 Grand Reward, Grey Swallow, 20-1 Auditorium, Imperial Stride, Mukafeh, 25-1 Akimbo, Antonius Plus, Balmont, (from 16-1) Haafhd, Magritte, Sabbeeh, Snow Ridge, 33-1 others.