Low Esteem just a mirage

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Mark Of Esteem has had his leg problems and from the way he has been moving in the 2,000 Guineas ante-post market recently it seems they are the same as Long John Silver's.

The Dubai-wintered colt was knocked out to 10-1 (from 7-1) by Coral yesterday, continuing a slide which began when he worked in the Emirates last Thursday. But as countless B-movies have portrayed down the years, it is unwise to put too much trust on visions in the desert.

Mark Of Esteem was said to have worked "satisfactorily" by the Godolphin team, which is no damnation when you consider that hyperbole is no great part of their make-up. Some have interpreted the trial as disappointing however, as the colt failed to pass his lead horse, Redoubtable. That could be misleading as Redoubtable is not the worst-named horse in Arabia, he is an animal who kept the subsequent Oaks winner Moonshell at bay on the gallops last season.

"Too much has been made of the fact that he didn't get past his lead horse," Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, said. "Redoubtable is a top-class lead horse so Mark Of Esteem had something to aim at all the way round. He was in a group of four and, from the view we had, it was clear he was doing his best work at the finish. He didn't go past Redoubtable but in truth you wouldn't expect him to because he came from a long way back and was wide on the bend.

"Mark Of Esteem's trial was the fastest of all the trials by a long way and I'm not going to discourage anyone from backing him. The purpose of the trials was to bring the horses on without the stress of an actual race and I'm surprised the work had such an effect on the market."

One thought that has been ventured this spring is that the Godolphin class of '96 compares shabbily with its predecessors. The originator of this theory was hard to find yesterday when the team captured the Group One Queen Elizabeth II Cup in Sha Tin with Overbury, the mount of Lanfranco Dettori.

Overbury, who was following Red Bishop's win for Godolphin in the race 12 months ago, has hardly been sending up the dust storms in Dubai this winter. He has twice been beaten soundly.

Britain's early-season Flat fodder is about to be replaced by the first worthwhile action of the season this week. Newmarket stages the first set of Guineas trials, opening up with tomorrows's Nell Gwyn Stakes, before serving us with the European Free Handicap and the Craven Stakes.

The last-named has already attracted Beauchamp King, the Racing Post Trophy winner, and John Gosden's Pommard, who has been the great talking horse on Newmarket Heath this spring. It seems it may now also feature the big gun himself, Alhaarth, the odds-on favourite for the 2,000 Guineas who had been expected to go for the Greenham Stakes at Newbury on Saturday.

"It may be too soft at Newbury," Dick Hern, the colt's trainer, said yesterday. "A decision on where Alhaarth will run will be made as soon as we know what the weather is going to do. I wouldn't want him to have too hard a race on soft ground, but I couldn't be more pleased with him, he is in very good form."

After racing at Newmarket on Thursday, Blue Duster, the second favourite for the 1,000, has a track gallop, while the next day the only filly above her in the market, Henry Cecil's Bosra Sham, will parade her talents in Newbury's Fred Darling Stakes.

By the time the Godolphin shipment arrives a week next Sunday, six days before the 2,000, the home defence will have been established. The jumps season will be fading fast and we will, once again, be getting our tongues round the Arabic horse names which seem to have been taken from a random look into a tureen of alphabet soup.

2,000 GUINEAS (Newmarket, 4 May): Coral: 8-11 Alhaarth, 10-1 Mark Of Esteem & Royal Applause, 12-1 Beauchamp King, 16-1 Bijou D'Inde, Danehill Dancer & Pommard; Ladbrokes: 4-5 Alhaarth, 7-1 Mark Of Esteem, 10-1 Beauchamp King & Danehill Dancer, 12-1 Royal Applause, 16-1 Pommard; William Hill: 4-5 Alhaarth, 9-1 Mark Of Esteem, 10-1 Royal Applause, 12-1 Beauchamp King, 14-1 Pommard.