Racing: Las Meninas to put Stack in the Guineas picture: A filly from the Irish delegation presents powerful credentials to an international gathering for the first Classic of the season

RACING brings nations together this afternoon when Newmarket stages a most cosmopolitan edition of the 1,000 Guineas. The first Classic of the season rekindles thoughts of the singers on a hill extolling the virtues of Coke, as runners from the United States, France, Dubai and Ireland arrive to tackle the home contingent.

America's representative, Irish Forever, was the subject of market moves yesterday. The filly, trained in Maryland by Bill Boniface, was 200-1 earlier in the week, but is now as low as 50-1 following a morning gallop in the hands of big-race jockey Alan Munro, who was fired with enthusiasm when he dismounted. However, Irish Forever is still a big price and if she succeeds then the bookmakers must have been sloppy with their homework.

The potential of the French runner, Coup De Genie, has long been known, and she was favourite for this race before breaking blood vessels on her final two starts as a two-year- old. Francois Boutin, her trainer, has placed his charge in the same category as his great horses Arazi and Miesque, while jockey Cash Asmussen has described her as the best juvenile he has partnered.

She worked well recently, but a meander through the sun-shafted woods of Chantilly is different to the furnace of a Classic, and Coup De Genie's physical problems are likely to resurface when the pressure reaches screaming pitch.

Success for Balanchine, who has wintered in Dubai, would be the most far-reaching result. Following the creditable run of Dayflower after a similar preparation last year, the Maktoum family has set aside several horses to be reared under the toning lamp of the Middle East sun in readiness for a Classic campaign. If she succeeds, and form suggests she should not, a new milieu for Classic horses will have been established.

Balanchine was sold last year by Robert Sangster and it is his Irish-based runner, Las Meninas, who appears best of the visitors. Named after a work by Velazquez (so she must look a picture in the paddock), the filly is trained by a man forever associated with Red Rum, his rider when winning a third Grand National, Tommy Stack.

'It hasn't been easy training her because the weather here has been terrible,' the Tipperary trainer said yesterday. 'But she's as ready as we can get her. We're very hopeful.'

Las Meninas is striking because of her habit of tail-swishing (supposedly the badge of a rogue), though the action does not disturb her trainer. 'She swishes here tail even when she's walking and that's a trademark of her,' Stack says. 'It won't slow her down.'

What is even more arresting about the filly is her form book entry for last year's Phoenix Stakes, in which she ran Turtle Island to half a length. As that colt demolished his rivals in the Greenham Stakes on his reappearance, Las Meninas's double-figure price is well worth considering. On that form, via the third, Fast Eddy, she holds John Dunlop's Bulaxie.

The Arundel trainer's first string, Mehthaaf, is a far more sturdy proposition. Third in last year's Prix Marcel Boussac, in which Dunlop runs (and unusally wins with) all his best fillies (Ashayer, Salsabil and Shadayid), she was a most impressive winner of her trial, the Nell Gwyn Stakes.

The value about her though evaporated within moments of that success, and she is too short a price to accept, especially considering the size of today's field, the biggest since Oh So Sharp headed another bunch of 17, nine years ago. If there is one filly that has been underestimated in the international cavalcade it is the one named after a painting. She should at least be in the frame.

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