Racing: A new sport of Kings

Xaar deposed as Aidan O'Brien's Irish raider runs away with the first Classic of the season
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The Independent Online
NOT a Xaar, but a King. The Irish colt King Of Kings produced the brilliant burst of speed that is the hallmark of a true champion to win the 180th running of the 2,000 Guineas here yesterday in right royal style. Lend A Hand was a thoroughly gallant length-and-a-quarter runner- up with Border Arrow a fast-finishing third three quarters of a length behind, but the odds-on favourite, Xaar, last year's champion two-year- old, could manage only fourth.

The result was a triumph for faith. King Of Kings has always seemed something of an enigma; though he had been beaten only once in five outings last year, it was his work on the home gallops in Co Tipperary rather than his appearances in public that had been truly impressive.

But when it mattered he was, after all, able to produce the overwhelming display of class that his trainer, Aidan O'Brien, unwaveringly believed he possessed. The son of Sadler's Wells was always travelling easily as Tamarisk, shadowed by Lend A Hand, ensured an end-to-end gallop and as soon as Michael Kinane eased an inch of rein he moved forward smoothly to cover the leaders.

Lend A Hand, under hard driving from Darryl Holland, took over in front before the two-furlong mark and kept going strongly, but as soon as Kinane gave the signal to go at the top of the hill King Of Kings bounded forward and swept imperiously past.

It was a first English Classic for the 29-year-old trainer with his first runner in one, but then the softly-spoken, bespectacled Irishman's capability with the horses in his care at Ballydoyle does verge on genius.

Yesterday was the first trip out of Ireland for King Of Kings - he left Shannon Airport at nine in the morning - and although he was one of the most impressive of the 18 runners in the parade ring, he was the most restive. No chances were taken with his suspect temperament on the way to the Rowley Mile start; instead of cantering down solo like the others, Kinane took a close lead from Jimmy Too.

The characteristic high, almost arrogant, carriage of King Of King's boldly white starred-head has been read by some as spookiness, but by those closest too him as intelligent awareness. A horse, however, can sometimes be too clever for his own good. John Magnier, head of the Coolmore Stud-based team which secured the colt as a foal for 250,000gns, said: "You are almost afraid to commit yourself to saying a horse is top class. But we believed this one was, and thought we would treat him as such until he let us down. But we had to be careful; he is the sort of horse whose head could have gone either way."

King Of Kings' first season ended in September with minor surgery on a knee. But he had clearly done well over the winter, and not just physically. O'Brien said: "He has matured mentally, which is probably the more significant. He was a child last year but is a man now."

It was a second successive Guineas, after Entrepreneur, for Kinane and the owners. The jockey said: "I was happy with him throughout; I sent him on going down the hill to create a bit of rhythm and impetus, as he only ever does just enough. But there is nothing wrong with his courage. He's just a bit of a showman."

Thoughts of the Derby are on hold until the Ballydoyle team sit down and talk their star's prospects of staying a mile and a half through. But both Border Arrow (5-1 favourite in one list) and, in particular, Haami - the son of Nashwan was an eye-catching fifth only half-a-length behind Xaar - entered the Epsom equation.

Lend A Hand maintained his trainer Mark Johnson's remarkable 2,000 Guineas record, which now reads one winner and two seconds from three runners. The colt, the pick of the paddock, will stick to a mile, with his next target the St James' Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.

There were no visible excuses for the French-trained favourite, apart from the basic one of not being good enough on the day. His rider Olivier Peslier said: "I followed the winner but he just left my horse behind when he quickened." Duck Row was sixth, Almutawakel best of the two Goldolphin runners in seventh, and fancied Daggers Drawn plumb last.

It is perhaps tempting fate to give a horse a name like King Of Kings, but this one justified it with an in-your-face arrogance from day one. His price tag in the Tattersalls auction ring, a couple of miles from the scene of his greatest triumph, made him the most expensive baby racehorse in Europe in 1995. But now, of course, he was a bargain.

How they finished

1. KING OF KINGS M J Kinane 7-2

2. Lend A Hand D Holland 8-1

3. Border Arrow R Cochrane 16-1

18 ran. 10-11 fav Xaar (4th). 11/4, 3/4. (A O'Brien, Ballydoyle, County Carlow). Tote: pounds 5.40; pounds 2.40, pounds 2.40, pounds 2.90. DF: pounds 20.60. CSF: pounds 27.80. Trio: pounds 42.60.

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