Moonshell's distant glow fails to enlighten punters

Greg Wood chooses Stoute credentials to see off the 1,000 Guineas favourite
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It is not too unusual for a horse to shorten in an ante-post Classic market, or even rise to favouritism, without leaving its box. It is a little less expected for a runner to head the market without so much as setting foot on the continent of Europe, far less a British racecourse, for five months, but this could be the strange problem facing punters if the 1,000 Guineas trials over the next week fail to produce a convincing winner.

The filly in question is Moonshell, who won a Doncaster maiden by three lengths last October and, as a representative of Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin operation, has spent the winter in Dubai. This, of course, was the revolutionary preparation enjoyed by Balanchine 12 months ago before she ran Las Meninas to a short-head at Newmarket. Backers and bookmakers have taken the hint and Moonshell has been the favourite for Britain's first Sunday Classic, at Newmarket on 7 May, for several months.

The word in Dubai is that Moonshell's form and physique are in advance of Balanchine's at the same time last year and yesterday Lanfranco Dettori flew into Dubai to put her through her paces. Our first opportunity to judge her condition will not be until the pre-race parade, however, since Moonshell is expected to stay in Dubai until the last possible moment.

This puts punters in a difficult position. If the winter sun has accelerated Moonshell's physical development as planned, she may well have a favourite's chance at Newmarket. Yet 6-1 still seems very short for a once-raced maiden winner when you consider that three of the last five Guineas winners had taken Group One events as juveniles, while the others had been placed at that level.

One who achieved that distinction, the Ascot Fillies' Mile runner-up, Jural, was another to receive professional guidance from the saddle yesterday, when Michael Kinane partnered the Mark Johnston-trained filly in a racecourse workout at Ripon.

However, like Moonshell and the stable's 2,000 Guineas winner last year, Mister Baileys, her preparation will do nothing to enlighten punters as it will not include a race.

Half the fun - indeed quite probably all the fun - of an ante-post bet at this stage comes from watching the trials and, on rare occasions, seeing your judgement vindicated. The sequence begins tomorrow with the Masaka Stakes at Kempton, and the Prix Imprudence at Evry, the Nell Gwyn Stakes at Newmarket and the Fred Darling at Newbury should also provide valuable information in the days ahead.

French-trained fillies, particularly those prepared by Criquette Head, have an impressive record in the Guineas, so Macoumba, last year's Prix Marcel Boussac winner, may attract support at 25-1 before her seasonal debut in the Imprudence. Last year's Boussac did not appear to be a vintage renewal, though, and backers may prefer to turn to another trainer with an excellent history in the Newmarket Classic, Michael Stoute.

Stoute has won the race only once, with Musical Bliss in 1989, but he has been reaching the frame with admirable consistency for many years. This season, his potential team is one of the strongest ever from Freemason Lodge, with Red Carnival (10-1), Gay Gallanta (14-1), Golden Tune (33- 1) and Pure Grain (33-1) all possible runners.

Both Gay Gallanta, a Group One winner in the Cheveley Park Stakes, and Red Carnival, who took the Cherry Hinton at Newmarket in July, carry the colours of Cheveley Park Stud. "They have both wintered very well and hopefully we'll have one or both running in the Guineas," Chris Richardson, the stud's racing manager, said yesterday. "Gay Gallanta would have to carry a penalty in the Nell Gwyn Stakes so she'll go to the Fred Darling at Newbury. Red Carnival will run in the Nell Gwyn."

Gay Gallanta needs to be covered up to come with a late run off a fast pace, so the Guineas should suit her ideally. With form and her trainer's past record in her favour, she is a good each-way Guineas bet at 14-1 with Coral.