Racing: Piggott's Niche for Classic collection: Punters should resist the French favourite for the 1,000 Guineas and put their faith in four decades of experience

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THREE weeks ago, Andre Fabre was a dark figure on a dark day at Maisons- Laffitte as he saw first Zafonic and then Elizabeth Bay beaten in their preparatory races for the Guineas. The French trainer's mood might have been brighter had he known these performances would be among the more convincing of the Classic trials.

With no strong contender emerging among Britain's leading colts and fillies, Zafonic is now odds-on to capture the 2,000 Guineas on Saturday, while Elizabeth Bay is also favourite to return some of the dollars 1m she cost as a yearling when she contests the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket this afternoon.

Elizabeth Bay's defeat was inflicted by one of today's rivals, Wixon, in the Prix Imprudence. This was an appropriate event for the filly as Miesque and Ravinella had used it as the stepping stone to their 1,000 Guineas victories in the Eighties. It was also appropriate in view of the errant course piloted by Thierry Jarnet, Elizabeth Bay's jockey.

Jarnet's strange journey up the inside rail and straight into the backside of one of the pacemakers ensured that his mount could never catch Wixon. Yet even if she had won, the filly would have struggled to match the arresting style of her swift extrication and finish.

French horses have a better recent record in this race than any other British Classic (the prize has gone over the Channel four times in the last 10 years), and one theory has it that Continental runners do well here because they benefit from warmer springs.

An extension of this argument would suggest that Dayflower could win pulling the stalls. Trained as a two-year-old by Henry Cecil, the filly has spent the winter in Dubai, pioneering the equine equivalent of athletics' warm-weather training.

Now prepared by Satish Seemar, Dayflower today becomes the first Dubai-trained horse to run in an a European Classic and may herald increased traffic of Maktoum family horses between the Middle East and Britain.

While in Dubai, Dayflower finished second to Ghurrah, a moderate handicapper when trained by John Benstead, and if this experiment is repeated a more suitable guinea-pig will be needed.

Further foreign influence is provided at Newmarket by Secrage, the former Italian-trained filly who is now in the care of Roger Charlton. The Beckhampton trainer is also likely to be represented in the 2,000 Guineas now that Inchinor, the Greenham Stakes winner, has recovered from coughing.

'He runs barring accidents and I am as satisfied as one can be that he is 100 per cent,' Charlton said yesterday. 'He is not coughing and all the tests we have carried out have been good.'

Charlton hardly has lofty aspirations for Secrage - he expects her to reach the frame at best - and this has damaging implications for Elizabeth Bay, who has roughly the same powers judged on a line through Wixon. The fact that Pat Eddery rides Secrage in preference to Lyric Fantasy is also damning for Richard Hannon's filly.

Lyric Fantasy has all the attributes of a sprinter and on her only venture above the minimum distance last season she was beaten by Britain's leading hope today, Sayyedati. However, the team behind Clive Brittain's filly have spent the last two weeks trying to distance themselves from her poor run in the Nell Gwyn Stakes.

If she is to win today, they have to believe Sayyedati was a debilitated creature two weeks ago. 'We're banking on the fact that she didn't run up to her best,' Walter Swinburn, the filly's jockey, said yesterday. 'I've ridden her since and she seems fine. If she runs back to her best and shows us what she can do then she is the one they have all got to beat.'

Swinburn, who has won this race twice in the last four years with Musical Bliss and Hatoof, is another rider who has had a choice of rides. If his judgement is correct, Sayyedati should at least finish in front of Zarani Sidi Anna.

The only filly to have accomplished that before is Niche, who gave Michael Stoute's runner 5lb and a beating in the Nell Gwyn. Lyric Fantasy's stablemate ran behind Sayyedati in the Cherry Hinton Stakes at this course last year, but was conceding weight. At level weights there should not be the difference between them that the bookmakers' boards will imply.

Some believe Niche will struggle to last home over the Rowley Mile, but her pedigree shows more stamina than speed. The most enduring element associated with the filly though is the jockey who will be tugging at the reins this afternoon.

If Lester Keith Piggott wins the 1,000 Guineas for the third time, as form and breeding suggest he should, NICHE (nap 3.40) will have provided him with the 31st Classic success of his imperishable career.

(Photograph omitted)