Rock unsteady in Ladbrokes' Guineas betting

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The Independent Online

Success in the Dewhurst Stakes is no guarantee that a colt will even run in the 2,000 Guineas, all of seven months and a long winter later, never mind actually win it. One honour it does generally confer, though, is a place at, or very near, the top of the ante-post Classic betting, and a regular name-check from punters desperate for something to back when the only alternative is the all-weather at Lingfield. In the last few years alone, names like Distant Music, Xaar and Tobougg have been scribbled on to thousands of winter warmers.

So as the adrenalin ebbed away after a frenzied conclusion to Saturday's Dewhurst at Newmarket, Ladbrokes' quote of 16-1 against Rock Of Gibraltar, the narrow winner, for next year's 2,000 Guineas stood out like ... well, that's one you can probably fill in for yourselves. And it was not so much the price, as the firm prepared to lay it, which told the most interesting tale.

As any regular racegoer at the bigger tracks will know, the link between Mike Dillon, Ladbrokes' racecourse PR man, and the Ballydoyle operation is only just short of umbilical. Wherever you find O'Brien, Michael Tabor and John Magnier gathered together, Dillon is rarely more than a few steps behind. Like any good PR man – and Dillon is one of the best – he also spreads the schmooze around. His association with Sir Alex Ferguson, who owns a share in Rock Of Gibraltar, went a long way towards introducing the Manchester United manager to racing in general, and O'Brien in particular.

There are many who find Dillon's ubiquity and the role of other bookmakers' representatives a cause for concern, not least at the Jockey Club. In December last year, the Club proposed new rules to "minimise the level of association" between licence holders – ie jockeys and trainers – and bookmakers.

But Dillon does have his uses. O'Brien probably has the finest collection of juvenile colts ever assembled under one roof, and after the success of Sholokhov in the Gran Criterium at San Siro yesterday, Ballydoyle has won every Group One race for two-year-old colts run in Europe this season. Just two remain, the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster next Saturday, and the Criterium de St Cloud next month, and he must be a short price to complete an unprecedented clean sweep.

Caution is not a watchword at Ballydoyle, however, it is a psychosis. O'Brien is as likely to offer punters some definitive words on his idea of the pecking order as he is to run Istabraq in the Grand National. If past form this season is any guide, he will still have at least half-a-dozen entries in the 2,000 Guineas after the five-day declarations on 29 April. In such circumstances, the opinion of Ladbrokes' man on the spot is as close to the thinking inside the yard as backers are likely to get, and if he is happy to lay Rock Of Gibraltar at 16-1 for the Guineas after his victory on Saturday, then punters would probably do well to take the hint.

Ballydoyle's 1-2-3 in the Dewhurst – with the order decided by a short-head and a head – was yet another incredible achievement for a man who makes the extraordinary seem commonplace. The other two colts who fought out the finish, Landseer and Tendulkar, are both 20-1 chances for the Guineas, however (though both looked to have the scope to be considerably better next year).

Instead, O'Brien's prime Classic candidates at this stage seem to be Hawk Wing, who has beaten Sholokhov twice this season, and is Ladbrokes' 5-1 joint-favourite for the 2,000 Guineas (with Dubai Destination), and Johannesburg, the Middle Park winner, who is a 6-1 chance. Internet punters can get 7-1 about Hawk Wing with Bet247, but the odds about all three of the top names in the betting are now very short when you must wait seven months for a payout.

And sometimes, it takes even longer than that for the best juveniles to deliver. Twelve months ago, Tobougg and Nayef were the only horses anyone wanted to know about in the Guineas betting. Classic weekend came and went with the pair of them as also-rans, but on Saturday they finally got to fight out the finish in a Group One race at Newmarket.

A fine finish it was too, with Nayef, who is expected to stay in training next year, a worthy winner. It just seemed rather a pity that all those winter-warmer betting slips have been landfill these past five months.

Pace puts on Paris show

Mark Johnston's Yavana's Pace yesterday won his second Group race at Longchamp within six weeks with victory in the Prix du Conseil de Paris. Next Sunday, the nine-year-old gelding will return for the Prix Royal Oak (French St Leger). Kicked clear three furlongs out by Darryll Holland, Yavana's Pace held off Epitre by half a length with Luca Cumani's Boreas ninth of the 11 runners.

* David Elsworth was fined £1,500 by the Newmarket stewards for improper conduct on Saturday following an incident with a security steward after watching a race from an unauthorised place in the stands.

* Pontefract's card today is subject to a 7.30am inspection.