Racing: Jarvis colt leads Classic crop: Greg Wood looks at the top juveniles in a tightly-bunched pack

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The Independent Online
AS Geoffrey Gibbs, the senior handicapper, quietly assessed 1993's juveniles yesterday, the clamour of a betting shop on Guineas day seemed a world away. Yet only the most dedicated purist could study the 67 horses who qualified for a rating without wondering, above all, which of them will succeed at Newmarket in May.

Gibbs, unfortunately, could offer even fewer clues than usual. Zafonic, clearly the best juvenile of 1992, was top-rated in the International Classifications and duly went on to success in the 2,000 Guineas. Last year, though, no two-year-old broke clear of the pack and Grand Lodge, top of Gibbs's list on 120, has the lowest mark of a champion juvenile since the ratings began in 1978.

Willie Jarvis's colt did, at least, win the Dewhurst Stakes, in Gibbs's view one of the year's few truly competitive juvenile contests. 'At least 50 per cent of the field in the Dewhurst ran to their ratings, and the race was run against Grand Lodge.'

But while there is no obvious champion for the new season, Gibbs believes that 'the strength in depth is well up to standard'. The implication is that we can look forward to close finishes in next year's top races, even if winners are harder than ever to predict.

Promise, of course, is everywhere. Glatisant (110) and Balanchine (104) are lightly-raced fillies with more prominence in the ante-post 1,000 Guineas betting than in the official ratings, while East Of The Moon, as short as 7-1 favourite for the race, has little more than good breeding and Francois Boutin's optimistic assessment to recommend her. Like the colts, Green Green Desert (12-1 for the 2,000 Guineas) and Golden Nashwan (20-1), both convincing winners in late-season maidens, she does not figure in the handicappers' assessments at all.

Sitting somewhere between the proof and the promise is Manntari, trained in Ireland by John Oxx. Given the excitement he caused when winning a valuable race at The Curragh by 10 lengths, it may seem surprising that he is rated at 115, 5lb behind Grand Lodge. Ciaran Kennelly, the Irish Turf Club's senior handicapper, stressed that Manntari contested 'a Group One race which contained no Group One winners and he hasn't taken on a horse of proven Group race standard (the forlorn showing by State Performer at The Curragh has been ignored).'

Manntari is the crux of betting on the 2,000 Guineas, not least because his participation is so doubtful. An addition to the usual dangers of injury, illness or simple loss of form is the current refusal of his owner, the Aga Khan, to race his horses in Britain.

Tight finishes are fine, but it may need a change of heart by the Aga if British racegoers are to have a champion to follow next season.