Racing: Baileys strikes blow for North

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MISTER BAILEYS and the former champion apprentice Jason Weaver snatched the 2,000 Guineas here yesterday, covering the Rowley Mile in record time. The colt, who started at 16-1, beat Grand Lodge by a short-head, with Colonel Collins third, three lengths back.

Trained by Mark Johnston at Middleham, in Yorkshire, Mister Baileys, making his seasonal debut, was the first Northern-based winner of the colts' Classic since Rockavon came down from Dunbar 33 years ago.

It was a tremendous feat by Johnston, a former vet who started training on a bombing range in Lincolnshire eight years ago. Yesterday's blue sky and sunshine was a far cry from the filthy Yorkshire winter that held Mister Baileys up in his work until just three weeks ago. Johnston, his left arm, broken by a kick from a two-year-old, in a sling, said: 'Getting him here has been a nightmare. We've had the wettest winter for 15 years, and even our all-weather strip was virtually unusable. We could only give him three proper gallops on grass.'

Mister Baileys looked a picture during the preliminaries - he won the best-turned-out award for his stable lad Gary Richie - and moved to post like a dream, floating over the firm ground. He came back even more impressively.

The field of 23, the biggest since 1982, split into two groups. Star Selection, with Mister Baileys' white face showing prominently just behind him, led those who came down the middle of the course; the bunch on the stand rails were headed by the favourite, King's Theatre.

The coolest man on the course was Weaver, 23, having his first ride in a Classic. He took the colt to the front more than three furlongs out and let him go two from home. Mister Baileys lengthened his stride - tackling the hill with a will - and, although Grand Lodge came flying under Frankie Dettori at the end, the winner always just had the edge. His time of 1 minute 35.08 seconds, took 0.24 seconds off the record set by Zafonic in the race 12 months ago.

Weaver, in his first full season as a senior jockey, left Newmarket to sign up with Johnston during the winter, and was quick to give credit to the luckless Dettori, short-headed in his second Classic in three days.

He said: 'He won the Royal Lodge on him last year, and told me a lot about him. He was a great help but, once the stalls open, it's every man for himself.

'Mister Baileys responded instantly when I asked him, and is a most genuine and gentlemanly horse in every way.'

Johnston, a great champion of racing in the North, said: 'We've always been neglected, but this proves that our training facilities are as good as anywhere else, if we have the horses to train.'

Colonel Collins ran on well to be third, three lengths adrift, followed in by the Dubai challenger State Performer, Distant View (the first stands-side finisher), Star Selection, River Deep and Just Happy. King's Theatre finished 13th.

The 2,000 Guineas, although over a mile, nevertheless is often the best trial for the mile-and-a-half Epsom Derby, and the bookmakers now make Mister Baileys their new Derby favourite at 11-2, with Colonel Collins 14-1. Grand Lodge, the winter 2,000 Guineas favourite, , will stick to mile races.