Racing: Backers draw a Blanka: Greg Wood assesses the early value about next year's Classics

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The Independent Online
THE Ladbrokes representative turned up his nose, so the dubious honour of providing the first laughable Classic price of the year fell to the man from William Hill. Shortly after Sri Pekan's success in the Coventry Stakes yesterday, the firm was offering 25-1 about the colt for next year's 2,000 Guineas - a race more than 10 months distant.

They could have afforded to be more generous, since the first juvenile Group race of the British season had been billed as little more than a match between Silca Blanka, an impressive winner at Epsom on Derby day, and Rambrino, successful in a minor race at York but talked up to the rafters by Peter Chapple- Hyam, his trainer.

The BBC's betting show seemed to agree, relegating the pair's 14 rivals to the status of 'bar', but as is so often the case, the supposed also- rans had other ideas.

The punters who supported Silca Blanka from a morning price of 11-2 down to 5-2 favourite (which at Ascot takes serious money) had more to cheer than those who stuck with Rambrino, who was one of the first beaten with almost two furlongs to run. Silca Blanka was still with the pace at the furlong pole, but when it mattered, he too dropped tamely away, leaving Sri Pekan to fight off Moon King and Missel by a neck and a short-head.

'We had to push and squeeze him a bit just to get him here,' trainer Paul Cole said afterwards. 'We'll give him a bit of a break now, and he'll definitely miss the July meeting at Newmarket, but he may get to Goodwood.'

By then, Sri Pekan's owner, Sultan Ahmad Shah of Malaysia, should have returned from an engagement he considered more pressing even than watching his colt at Royal Ascot. 'He's gone to America,' Cole said, 'for the World Cup.'

Elsewhere in the enclosure, there was no sign of Chapple- Hyam or Robert Sangster, who between them provided two favourites and one second favourite on the meeting's opening day, and left empty- handed. The trainer's huge confidence in Rambrino should not be dismissed yet, however. Yesterday's race asked too many questions of a weak and inexperienced colt too early in his career. Almost unnoticed, though, he ran on into sixth place. His day will come. Silca Blanka's, though, has perhaps already been and gone.

Fine weather helped to produce a big crowd for the meeting's first day. The attendance was 39,887, a six per cent increase on last year.