Victory for Mister Baileys in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket on Saturday continued a plot which may yet see a northern-trained horse win the Derby for the first time since Dante succeeded while the world was still at war.
Mister Baileys is trained at Middleham by Mark Johnston, a qualified vet, who, like Saturday's winning jockey, Jason Weaver, was participating in a Classic for the first time. That Johnston would be victorious should have been detected when he turned up wearing a sling, following a kick from a two-year-old. The progress of Stephen Hendry at Sheffield's Crucible in recent days suggests that all winners have broken left arms.
Weaver purchased his first mount, a pony, as an eight-year- old. With pounds 25 in his pocket from a cow-milking session, the prospective jockey found himself short of the required amount and consequently 'borrowed' his mother's fridge- freezer to seal the deal. When Mrs Weaver returned, she found a large pet in the garden and nowhere to store the groceries, but her forgiveness was proved divine at the weekend.
Mister Baileys' run made a mess of the record books. He was the first northern-trained victor in a Classic since Mrs McCardy's 1,000 Guineas in 1977 and the first in the 2,000 Guineas since Rockavon 33 years ago.
The infrequency of the travellers' achievements left many forwarding fluke theories about Saturday's success, most notably that Mister Baileys was favoured by a high draw from which the second and third also emerged. Johnston did not accept that his horse benefited from the lottery of the stalls and had a theory of his own to explain the result.
'The stands side can't be the fastest day in day out, year in year out, and then suddenly the far side is the best this time,' he said yesterday. 'The far side was the fastest because our horse jumped so quickly, more quickly than we wanted to, and we got a tactical advantage by getting on with the race while the stands side were playing cat and mouse.'
The numerically strong field and course record time, breaking Zafonic's mark set a year ago, are Johnston's proof of valid success. 'The clock doesn't lie and there can't have been 22 sick horses out there,' he said.
Vindication was also burning inside a man who generated much mirth when he announced that his northern yard would be aiming for Classics.
'Only two years ago people laughed at me for saying I wanted to train Classic winners from Middleham,' he said. 'The government of this country thinks London is the centre of the earth and horseracing has gone down the same road. The whole country has suffered over a long period of time from centralisation, and, in racing, this has snowballed and a lot of trainers lost confidence as they lost horses.
'But you can't take it away from people like Jack Berry and Mary Reveley, who are also flying the flag. There are three northern trainers in the top 10, which is miraculous considering the ammunition we've got.
'I've never had any doubts about northern racing, it's the lack of ammunition we've been getting that's the problem.'
Mister Baileys has proved that the title of best horse trained in the North carries with it more prestige, for once, than being the captain of a coracle. He is as low as 11-2 for Epsom and will next show his talents in the Dante Stakes at York a week on Wednesday. Weaver will again ride on the Knavesmire and Johnston immediately squashed suggestions that a more experienced pilot will be drafted in for the journey around Tattenham Corner.
The trainer chooses to ignore the list of statistics showing that 14 of the last 23 Guineas winners have gone on to attempt the double in the Derby, and, since 1970, only Nashwan has been victorious. He leans instead on another fact, that three of the six horses since the War that won the Newmarket Classic on their seasonal debuts were also successful in the Blue Riband.
'On Saturday he was fit, but you can never reach real sharpness without a race,' he said. 'At the moment he's a very worthy favourite for the Derby.
'We're keeping our feet on the ground, but, as things stand, this could be a superhorse.'
THE DERBY (Epsom, 1 June): Coral: 7-1 Mister Baileys, 12-1 Colonel Collins, 16-1 Bal Harbour, Golden Nashwan & King's Theatre. Ladbrokes: 7-1 Mister Baileys, 10-1 Colonel Collins, 14-1 Bal Harbour & State Performer. William Hill: 11-2 Mister Baileys, 14-1 Colonel Collins & Linney Head, 16-1 Double Trigger, 20-1 Bal Harbour, Golden Nashwan, King Of Naples, King's Theatre & The Deep.
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