Racing: Island Sands looks golden

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The Independent Online
IT WILL be a hugely different 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket this afternoon. Not, for once, will battle commence over the Rowley Mile through Heathcliff weather, across the Suffolk countryside once described as "miles and miles of bugger all".

Redevelopment of the main grandstand at Headquarters means that today's theatre is the more sylvan acre of Newmarket's July course, where the fresh greens of spring will herald what is also a beginning for Classic racehorses.

An animal to drool over will emerge later today, but, for once, there is no common supposition about which beast that will be. Gone are the days when a hotpot was packed off for the winter, won his prep race and came to the Guineas, an odds-on shot to be anointed.

We may even get 4-1 the favourite this afternoon, and the bookmakers' lists suggest a recent trend will be continued as the winner is likely to be a horse making his seasonal debut. Three of the first four in the betting will be making their initial appearances of the campaign.

It can be argued, however, that not only has one of them, Island Sands, run in a race but that he has also won the most significant warm-up. The Godolphin annual championships, held at Nad Al Sheba in Dubai each spring, may not be the most catholic of events, but they are certainly instructive for finding Classic winners. Both Mark Of Esteem and Cape Verdi graduated from the trials to take their respective Guineas.

Island Sands was a horse rated very highly by David Elsworth even before he ran. Sheikh Mohammed rather liked him too so he bought the colt.

Such is Godolphin's armoury, however, that even this unbeaten horse was considered little more than a member of the chorus line behind some rather fancy reputations. Island Sands is a plain horse in appearance, but certainly not in performance. If you consider the exercise in Arabia over Grand National weekend to be a race, as Godolphin do, then Island Sands is now unbeaten after three contests, the last of which has erased doubts that may have been raised by the first two. For the first time in his life, the colt had some useful opponents behind him. The nearest trials pursuer was Mukhalif, who ran honourably at Newmarket yesterday, further strengthening the opinion that Island Sands must finish close to the lead this afternoon.

They will have had similar if not identically structured trials at the Co Cashel premises of Aidan O'Brien and the result of these encounters seems to be that Orpen is their most forward horse. Last year this colt beat another of today's rivals, Exeat, in France's Prix Morny, yet his Irish connections were not shouting his name from the guttering. Stravinsky was the one, so they thought. Orpen is clearly no afterthought, but at Ballydoyle last year his position around the sedan chair was that of bearer.

Enrique has finished just ahead of Exeat too, in Newbury's Greenham Stakes. He goes into the Guineas on the back of that trial win and another good batch of home reports. Nothing, however, could match the golden fanfare which preceded his arrival for the Dewhurst Stakes last season. And he flunked that assignment.

The Dewhurst was collected by John Dunlop's Mujahid, who would be the traditional short-priced favourite had he not stank like last week's kipper in the Craven Stakes. It does not seem sensible to speculate on a reversal of the form back over course and distance.

Compton Admiral showed his liking for this venue when picking up the pieces in the Craven, but, like another admirable horse in Auction House, he does not have the sparkle associated with a Classic horse. Commander Collins does, but his big day may come at Epsom at the beginning of June.

The one to be on today is ISLAND SANDS (nap 3.40). The credentials look sound and will appear even better if Rhagaas, who was miles behind in the Godolphin trial, can stick his head in front, as well as high up in the air, at the end of Newmarket's first exchange today.

It will be a race of fury, yet no more hotly contested than several jumps races at Uttoxeter and Haydock. The hand-to-hand combat for the trainers' championship between Martin Pipe and Paul Nicholls is continuing to the very end and both men have a representative in the Midlands' richest race, the Uttoxeter Handicap Chase. Nicholls also has Fadalko in the most valuable jumps race of the day, the Swinton Handicap Hurdle at Haydock, but the champion trainer saddles four runners in an effort to defend his crown.