Racing: Guineas bailed out by sponsor: A debt of gratitude to a new backer has turned blushes into an embarrassment of riches for the first colts' Classic

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The Independent Online
SPONSORS have been around for only the most recent fraction of racing's history, but

already few worthwhile events would seem the same without one. Tacky it may be, but our best races sit around like wallflowers at a village dance, trying desperately to catch the eye of a well-heeled suitor. The grander the race, the greater the embarrassment if the offers do not arrive.

So the sighs were of relief as much as gratitude yesterday when the 2,000 Guineas finally found a partner. Madagans plc, which already sponsors the 1,000 Guineas, is to extend its support to include the second and third days of Newmarket's spring meeting. A pounds 250,000 investment will underpin the prize money for the Jockey Club Stakes, on the meeting's middle day, as well as the first colts' Classic, 24 hours later.

The money is intended to raise the company's profile, though anyone who is already aware of Madagans' line of business might prefer it if they were not. Bernard Gover, chief executive, told a press launch yesterday that the firm is 'vaguely in financial services'. But it is more precisely in debt collection, with lesser interests in business information and local government services.

Coyness is not the normal reaction of a company which has just handed over a six-figure sum, and might make you wonder exactly what Madagans, or any other sponsor for that matter, expects to get in return. 'We take the view that racing is going to give nationwide exposure to the name and go some way to putting us on the top rung as a professional outfit. It's part of the education process,' Barry Root, the firm's corporate services director, said. 'And it's a lot of fun.' For a quarter of a million pounds, it had better be.

The Guineas meeting will be the initial target of Lanfranco Dettori's season, as he attempts to install a first British Classic in his trophy cabinet. He may need to make room for the champion jockey's award too, as his current form on all- weather tracks may carry him beyond Pat Eddery's reach before the reigning champion has even lifted a saddle.

Dettori rode four winners at Wolverhampton yesterday, and is now 21 to the good with two months before the turf season opens and Eddery begins to mix it with his young rival. The Italian was 20 behind Eddery when runner-up in the title race last season, and this year's new job as John Gosden's stable jockey is unlikely to hamper his strike rate.

The jump riders' championship may offer more excitement this spring. As Adrian Maguire, until recently unbackable for the title, begins a six-day suspension today, Richard Dunwoody will expect to continue the form which brought him another three winners at Plumpton yesterday. The current champion moved to within 17 winners of Maguire, and overtook him in Ladbrokes' title betting. He is quoted at 8-11, with Maguire at evens.

Dunwoody's present form may be responsible for the position of Chatam as 5-2 second- favourite for Sunday's Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown. Coral's market leader at 11-8 is Jodami, last year's winner, though bad weather might persuade his trainer, Peter Beaumont, to run in the Agfa Diamond Chase at Sandown the previous day.

Jodami is now no better than 9-4 to repeat last year's success in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, though Beaumont believes that 'it's the bookmakers' problem if they want to quote him at that sort of price. He got beaten one week then stayed in his box the next and they still shortened him up.' If he wins on Sunday, he will be nudging odds-on.

IRISH GOLD CUP (Leopardstown, Sunday): Coral: 11-8 Jodami, 5-2 Chatam, 6-1 Deep Bramble, 14-1 Cahervillahow & Force Seven, 16-1 Ebony Jane, 33-1 Very Very Ordinary, 50-1 Gold Options & Garamycin.

(Photograph omitted)