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Harayir is the Sunday best

Classic opportunity for a filly as racing breaks new ground at Newmarket. Sue Montgomery reports
A FILLY called Harayir can make history today by becoming the first horse to win a Classic race in Britain on a Sunday. And in the process she can prove one of the sport's most experienced judges wrong, for Willie Carson has rejected her as his 1,000 Guineas mount in favour of the unbeaten Aqaarid.

Both are owned by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, whose two previous winners of the race, Salsabil and Shadayid, were trained, like Aqaarid, by John Dunlop. Carson said: "I don't think I've made a wrong decision yet in a Classic, but there's always a first time and it was a difficult choice."

Aqaarid, a Group 1 winner last term, deserves respect, but the American- bred Harayir, who could be a last throw for master trainer Dick Hern, ran a top-class Guineas trial when second to the colt Diffident, giving him weight, in the seven-furlong Free Handicap at Newmarket 18 days ago, and has thrived since.

Of the others, Moonshell has a high reputation but a lot to prove, and neither Hoh Magic nor Macoumba are guaranteed to see out the mile at this level of competition. Epagris has been sparkling in her recent homework and can turn the tables on her Nell Gwyn Stakes conqueror Myself. Those looking for a real long-shot for a place could do worse than consider Queenfisher, in the frame last year behind colts of the calibre of Eltish and Green Perfume.

This afternoon's Guineas is the centrepiece of the first full-scale Sunday race meeting to be held in Britain. There have been experimental race days on the Sabbath in the past, but the difference between those and today is betting. For all that people say about the enjoyment of watching the beautiful horses, admiring the skill of the jockeys or thrilling to a hard-fought finish, the nub of the sport is the battle with the bookmakers. Top-class events apart, racing without betting is like chilli con carne without the chilli.

It is somewhat ironic that the country that invented the thoroughbred racehorse back in the 18th century has been the last major racing nation to move with times. As Michael Stoute, who runs Gay Gallanta in the Guineas, said: "We must race when the public have the opportunity to watch. I am totally in favour of racing on Sundays and you can be sure that the increased exposure will bring in welcome, and vital, new blood."

In 1992, two non-betting race meetings, at Doncaster and Cheltenham, attracted huge crowds and entries - including a horse owned by the Queen - leaving no room for doubt about the success of the concept in principle. The breakthrough came a year later; in December 1993, Parliament voted to allow general Sunday trading and five months later, almost without warning, Cambridgeshire MP, Jim Paice, chairman of the All-Party Racing Committee, slipped an amendment to the Deregulation Bill through on the blind side and with one bound racing was free to market its attractions on Sundays alongside cricket, football, car boot sales and DIY stores.

It is entirely appropriate that Newmarket, the cradle of racing, should host the first of the 24 Sunday racedays scheduled in 1995. This weekend's Guineas meeting has been built up by its shrewd sponsors Madagans into a full-scale festival in the Suffolk town, with assorted entertainments taking place in conjunction with the sport. And fans have voted with their feet; for the past month it has been impossible to find a hotel bed within 30 miles of Newmarket and today, for the first time ever, the races are a sell-out, with a capacity crowd of 25,000 expected.

But whatever the atmosphere on Newmarket racecourse today, it is unlikely to match that of the 1945 1,000 Guineas. The race coincided with VE Day, and so to racing's headquarters fell the honour of staging the first Classic for six years.

The winner, in front of a huge, deliriously happy crowd, was the favourite Sun Stream, owned by Lord Derby, trained locally by Walter Earl, and ridden by Harry Wragg. The filly was led up by a stable lad called Gerry Blum who now, at the age of 76, runs a livery yard near Newmarket. He recalled: "The High Street and the yards were decorated with flags and bunting, and the town was packed with servicemen. People were dancing in the streets, and the atmosphere was marvellous. We used to fly the Union Jack at our stables when we won a big race, but the big winner that day was peace, so we hoisted it before racing even started."