Racing: Craven dims Zafonic's rivals: Emperor Jones sweeps aside rumour and opposition. Richard Edmondson reports from Newmarket

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The Independent Online
A CLEAR favourite for the 2,000 Guineas emerged yesterday after the Craven Stakes. The horse that finished second, a short-head in front of its pacemaker, at Maisons-Laffitte nine days ago.

Zafonic is now the shortest price he has ever been for the Classic after a Craven that left a wreckage of reputations.

Wharf, Barathea, and Chaddleworth, the horses chasing Zafonic in the ante- post table, went home diminished figures as the 14-1 chance Emperor Jones made a nonsense of the gallops bulletins that emerged from Newmarket this spring.

While Wharf (second), like Zafonic the property of Khalid Abdullah, and Barathea (fourth) finished within a length of the winner, there was no disguising a failure to live up to the esteem of work- watchers. Reports from the Heath, it seems, have been greatly exaggerated.

Unless Basim, Firm Pledge or Inchinor produces a display of high merit in the final Guineas trial, the Greenham Stakes at Newbury tomorrow, Zafonic will go into the Classic as a hot favourite by default. As one of many horses who have displayed suspect form this year, but the one who showed most last season.

John Gosden, Emperor Jones's trainer, was understandaby pleased that his colt had at least managed to transfer solid morning work to the racecourse, but he considered the most satisfied member of his profession should be a man who was not at the racecourse, and not even in the country.

'If I was Andre Fabre I would be pretty happy,' he said. 'You can't get away from the Dewhurst form from last year and if Zafonic settles he should win because he's the better class horse.'

There were many prepared to agree with Gosden's assertion that this trial of horses at various stages of fitness and maturity was little more than Rowley Mile roulette. 'It was a funny old race,' he said. 'You could run it again and get a completely different finish.'

This belief, though, should not detract from the battling qualities of Emperor Jones, a colt who returned the effort put in by his jockey, Ray Cochrane.

'You've got to get down there and work to get the best out of him,' the rider said. 'He's a very brave little horse.'

Emperor Jones is likely to be joined in the Guineas by his stable-mate Pembroke, who failed to stay the nine furlongs of yesterday's Feilden Stakes, but the full composition of the race is unclear. The drawing board will be well used over the next few days as connections of Barathea and Wharf contemplate whether to return here in two weeks.

'We will see, there's plenty of time,' Luca Cumani, Barathea's trainer, said yesterday. 'My horse got a little tired.'

Pat Eddery, Wharf's jockey, was in typically combative form after dismounting. 'He was certainly the best horse in the race and he will come on more than most for the run,' he said.

Despite this evaluation, Eddery's true affiliation lies elsewhere. 'Whatever we decide to run I'll definitely ride Zafonic,' he said later. The suspicion yesterday was that Wharf would be re-routed to the Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2,000 Guineas).

Eddery's choice of Derby mount may not be so simple. The Irishman already has Armiger and Tenby as candidates, and Placerville joined the short-list yesterday with victory in the Feilden Stakes.

Placerville will never be a horse that makes his supporters sit easily, as everything he does seems to be an effort, but he does at least acknowledge driving from the saddle. 'He's just a very lazy horse,' Henry Cecil, the colt's trainer, said. 'I don't think he'll ever win his races by very far.'

The trainer's Armiger and Tenby are locked together for favouritism in most lists for Epsom, but, interestingly, Ladbrokes now make the latter three points shorter at 4-1.

This, though, is on the back of an inexact science which makes them rich and races like yesterday's Craven a bewilderment. Tenby, the men with the binoculars say, is working well on the gallops.

2,000 GUINEAS (Newmarket, 1 May): Coral: 11-10 Zafonic, 10-1 Emperor Jones, 12-1 Chaddleworth & Kingmambo, 14-1 Firm Pledge, Inchinor & Right Win, 16-1 others; Ladbrokes: 4-5 Zafonic, 10-1 Barathea & Emperor Jones, 12-1 Firm Pledge & Inchinor, 14-1 Basim, 16-1 others; William Hill: evens Zafonic, 7-1 (with a run) Wharf, 8-1 Barathea, 14-1 Emperor Jones, 16-1 others.

THE DERBY (Epsom, 2 June): Ladbrokes: 4-1 Tenby, 7-1 Armiger, 12-1 Taos, 16-1 Barathea, Commander In Chief, 20-1 Placerville; William Hill: 11-2 Armiger & Tenby, 12-1 Taos, 14-1 Barathea, 20-1 Commander In Chief, Placerville.

(Photograph omitted)

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