Racing: Las Meninas seeks elusive double: Stack's 1,000 Guineas winner attempts to break new ground by following up at The Curragh

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The Independent Online
STATISTICS can be a dubious ally for backers - a roulette wheel may come up black 10 times in a row, but on the 11th spin a red number is still just as likely. None the less, one fact demands careful thought before anyone takes a short price about Las Meninas, the 1,000 Guineas winner, for this afternoon's Irish equivalent at The Curragh. The Irish Classic was first run in 1922, but to date no winner of the Newmarket Guineas has completed the double.

It is true that in recent years few winners of the Rowley Mile race have competed at The Curragh - Las Meninas is the first to do so since 1982 when John Reid, who rides Tommy Stack's filly this afternoon, was unplaced on On The House. Yet three 2,000 Guineas winners have followed up in Ireland in the last eight years alone, which raises the lack of a similar pattern among the fillies above the level of mere trivia.

'It's amazing, isn't it?' Stack said yesterday. 'I suppose they go the Oaks way, or they wait for something else, so we're trying to break new ground.' And ground is the key word. When Las Meninas squeezed home by a nostril from Balanchine at Newmarket, the going was good to firm. Even without any further rain, the turf will be yielding this afternoon, and Stack is concerned that his filly will not enjoy the experience.

'She's in good order and she's eaten well and done well since Newmarket,' Stack said. 'But the ground could be a factor. I'd have liked it drier, but you can't expect any more than the weather permits.'

The man leading the British challenge will have no complaints about the Irish weather, however. John Dunlop reopposes Las Meninas with Mehthaaf, who was sent off the 2-1 favourite at Newmarket but could finish only fourth. Her supporters will anticipate a return to the easy- ground form which propelled her to the top of the market that day, in particular a five- length defeat of Prophecy in the Nell Gwyn Stakes.

The expected four-strong British team for the Classic was reduced by one yesterday, when Michael Stoute's unbeaten Zafaaf injured herself boarding the plane for Dublin. Zafaaf was not the only one feeling the pain - Maktoum Al Maktoum, her owner, paid IR pounds 18,500 on Tuesday to enter the filly at the supplementary stage. In her absence, Relatively Special and Salvezza will complete the British challenge.

Should Las Meninas prevail for Reid, the jockey could complete an exceptionally profitable weekend at Longchamp tomorrow, when he will partner Peter Chapple- Hyam's Cairo Prince in the Prix Vicomtesse Vigier. A name to look out for on the same card is Moonlight Dance. Andre Fabre's filly has visited the course only once, but has been spoken of as a top-class middle-distance prospect. The Prix Saint- Alary is expected to provide a light exercise gallop - next month's Prix de Diane (French Oaks) is her main objective.

In the United States, Affirmed's status as the last winner of the Triple Crown may be reaffirmed for another 12 months after the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. Since Affirmed added this contest and then the Belmont Stakes to his win in the 1978 Kentucky Derby, only Sunday Silence, in 1989, has seriously threatened to emulate him. Go For Gin, who won America's major Classic two weeks ago, is 2- 1 favourite for the Preakness at Pimlico this evening, but Blumin Affair, third at Churchill Downs, may be much closer this time.

As for the original Derby, the rank outsiders Colonel Colt and Plato's Republic did little to advertise their chances in a maiden event at Newmarket yesterday. Plato's Republic veered violently right at the start, while Colonel Colt was pushed along soon after half- way and could make no impression on the leaders.

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