Racing: Manntari puts reputation to the test: A potential champion reappears as the last public clues to the first colts' Classic fall into place

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The Independent Online
THE Craven Stakes at Newmarket on Thursday was billed as the 2,000 Guineas in all but name, a notion hardly punctured when the bookmakers installed the first three home, King's Theatre, Colonel Collins and Suplizi, at the head of the betting. In the last five years, however, only one horse has gone on from the Craven to Guineas success and the best performance from the other quartet was Emperor Jones's eighth to Zafonic last season.

The Classic winner, then, may not yet have been sighted on the racecourse this spring, though that will almost certainly not be the case after this afternoon when there are trials at the disparate venues of Newbury, Thirsk, Longchamp and Leopardstown.

The 2,000 Guineas Trial in Ireland sees the reappearance of a horse who made perhaps the single most devastating impact in European racing last year, Manntari. When John Oxx's colt won the Group One National Stakes at The Curragh last September by 10 lengths it would have been no surprise to see him brought back on a throne. The champion that all racing enthusiasts crave appeared to have arrived.

The form turned out to be fairly useful, but Manntari now has to prove that was not a Bob Beamon-like effort and that he is not just another false hero. What he will produce today cannot be predicted, as the colt has been his usual lethargic self on the Kildare grasslands this spring. 'He's never been a horse to exert himself on the gallops and that's why we were so surprised when he won the National Stakes by 10 lengths,' Oxx said yesterday. 'He's fit and well and working well enough, but he doesn't stretch away from horses at home. We'll have to see another racecourse performance to know what sort of a horse he is. Like everyone else, I wouldn't mind an exciting horse coming along, but I don't know if he's the one.'

The irony of all this is that Manntari may prove himself the outstanding animal in these islands and yet never run in Britain. His owner, the Aga Khan, is still in dispute over the disqualification of Aliysa from the 1989 Oaks and will not run horses in Britain until the Jockey Club amends dope-testing procedures which he sees as barely more reliable than fourth-formers with a Bunsen burner. Ongoing talks may take a serious turn if Manntari wins, as there is a Guineas forfeit stage on Tuesday.

In continental Europe, five runners contest the Prix de Fontainebleu at Longchamp, which is primarily a Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2,000 Guineas) trial, though Lost World could take his chance at Newmarket if he is successful.

France is represented in Britain's main trial, Newbury's Greenham Stakes, by John Hammond's Lord Felix, who ran the older Matelot to a length at Maisons-Laffitte on his seasonal reappearance. With fitness, decent form and proven aptitude for the going on his side, he may surprise the home team. Owington and Turtle Island both have strands of form on which they could be considered, but Polish Laughter, the mount of Walter Swinburn, may cope with the conditions best of the British contingent.

Yesterday's Classic trial in Berkshire, the Fred Darling Stakes, went, as Newmarket's 1,000 Guineas warm-up had done earlier in the week, to John Dunlop. The Arundel trainer's Bulaxie survived a mazy path through the field to earn a quote of 10-1 for the first Classic, behind her stablemate and 3-1 favourite Mehthaaf.

A horse which Swinburn may ride in the 2,000 Guineas, Just Happy, runs in the Thirsk Classic Trial, in an attempt to erase the memory of the performance of another Michael Stoute inmate, Green Green Desert, who ran sloppily in the Craven.

At Ayr, there are opportunities for Cheltenham Festival failures. Granville Again has his first run for Len Lungo in the Scottish Champion Hurdle, while Baydon Star, See More Indians and Rouyan contest a Future Champion Novice Chase which rarely produces one. In the Scottish National, four horses who were captured by Aintree's demands, Into The Red, Mister Ed, Riverside Boy and Channels Gate, aim to prove that freshness survives a week after the Grand National.

(Photograph omitted)