Racing: Fasliyev puts in Classic display

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The Independent Online
FROM THE casino to the racecourse to the bloodstock sales, they play for high stakes at Deauville in August. Playing God with horses, trying to buy or breed a Classic winner, is little different from playing roulette, and in races like yesterday's Prix Morny, the wheel slows and the little white ball begins to pick its spot. And just as it does so, over at the sales ring the heavy hitters are placing their bets for another season, and preparing to spin the wheel all over again.

It will be a couple of months yet before the croupier finally places a marker on this year's winning chips. The way his luck is rolling at the moment, though, it seems that Michael Tabor will finish the latest round of the game with the largest pile. Stravinsky won him the Nunthorpe Stakes at York last week and now heads for the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Montjeu, already the winner of the French and Irish Derbys, is the 2-1 favourite for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. And in Fasliyev, who won the Prix Morny by four lengths yesterday, he has another potential Classic winner for next season.

Even allowing for the very soft ground, which often exaggerates a winning margin, Fasliyev's victory, his fifth from five starts, was immensely impressive. His rivals included Godolphin's City On A Hill, Bachir and Warm Heart, all of them unbeaten Group-race winners. When Mick Kinane sent him on with two furlongs to run, however, the only punters who still had an interest five seconds later were the ones who had backed him in a dual forecast.

Bachir, trained by John Gosden, eventually finished second, with his stablemate Warm Heart in third. "Was that a three-year-old we were racing against?" their trainer said afterwards, but the bad news for him was that Fasliyev will turn three at the stroke of the Millennium like the rest of yesterday's field. "Fasliyev is a lovely horse," Aidan O'Brien, his trainer said, "who is getting bigger and stronger all the time."

It was more than enough to propel Fasliyev to the top of the market for next year's 2,000 Guineas, at odds of 8-1 with Coral. He is not the clear favourite, however, since a colt called Bernstein, a Group Three winner at The Curragh at the end of June, is on offer at the same price. He, too, is owned by Tabor and trained by O'Brien, and while his achievements to date are as nothing alongside those of Fasliyev, the whisper from Ballydoyle, it seems, is that Bernstein is the better colt.

Such are the equine riches that Tabor, O'Brien and the rest of the Ballydoyle operation have at their disposal. They have been active, too, in all the main bloodstock auctions so far this year, although an older hand at the game, Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum, was the biggest buyer at Saturday's first session in Deauville. He bought six lots for a total price of FF10m, a little over pounds 1m, with his biggest individual splurge being FF4.2m on a colt by Danehill. Demi O'Byrne, the buyer for Coolmore Stud, Wafic Said and Sheikh Mohammed also left with several new toys.

Sheikh Mohammed must have been disappointed by City On A Hill's performance yesterday, but he did at least see Kayf Tara take a Group Two race for his Godolphin organisation. Facing just four rivals in the Prix Kergorlay, Kayf Tara made all the running to win at short odds. "The Irish St Leger is still on the agenda," Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, said, "and then possibly the Melbourne Cup. His is a much stronger animal this season and we intend to make him a more international horse."

Britain's racecourses are looking to be more international, too, if rumours are to be believed. A report yesterday claimed that the Racecourse Association intends to link up with Arena Leisure, which owns five British tracks, and RaceTech, who broadcast closed-circuit coverage to British courses, to launch a tax-free internet betting site, UK Racing Online.

The potential for a website which offers not just tax-free betting, but live coverage of the races concerned is clearly enormous. However, if the RCA is indeed involved in such a scheme, it does not seem to have told its racing director, Morag Gray.

"It is not a name I have come across," Gray said yesterday. "It is true we are looking to form relationships with companies interested in betting on the Internet with a view to providing pictures for web sites, but we are not planning to become directly involved in betting."

Graham Parr, the MD of Arena, however, said that he hoped to have the site up and running for next year's Grand National, possibly based in either the United States or Australia. "We have spent the last 18 months setting this up," he said. "I am certain we will be operating next year."