Racing: Shrinking expectations, expanding horizons: Greg Wood discovers an oasis of early value in the annual quest to find Classic winners

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The Independent Online
2,000 GUINEAS (Newmarket, 30 April) latest odds

CORAL: 8-1 Golden Nashwan & Grand Lodge, 12-1 Green Green Desert & Manntari, 14-1 Just Happy, 16-1 Colonel Collins, 20-1 Dumaani & Stonehatch, 25-1 others; WILLIAM HILL: 6-1 Grand Lodge & Manntari (with a run), 8-1 Golden Nashwan, 10-1 Green Green Desert, 16-1 Just Happy, 20-1 Colonel Collins, Stonehatch & Unblest, 25-1 others; LADBROKES: 7-1 Manntari (with a run); 8-1 Golden Nashwan & Grand Lodge, 10-1 Green Green Desert, 16-1 Just Happy, Nicolotte & Stonehatch, 20-1 Dumaani, First Trump, King's Theatre, Signe Divin & Unblest, 25-1 others.

THE OPENING of the Flat season on turf at Doncaster tomorrow is being greeted by an unusual level of anticipation. Unusual, in that it is almost non-existent.

Though last year's Classic generation eventually proved themselves unworthy of the name, the season did at least start with promise, and horses to look forward to in Tenby, Armiger and Zafonic. Twelve months on, with names like Grand Lodge, Unblest and Redoubtable towards the top of the 2,000 Guineas betting, the emotions are those of a Scrabble player with two Qs, a Z and no vowels. Can we cash this lot in, please, and try another set?

A measure of the apparent shortcomings of last year's juveniles is the ante-post 2,000 Guineas betting, in which two of the first three places are occupied by once-raced maiden winners. And is it only coincidence that the names of both - Golden Nashwan and Green Green Desert - are a reminder of times past?

It is unfair to dismiss the 1993 crop of two-year-olds before any have set foot on a racecourse at three. Yet the lack of a dominant juvenile last year sharpens the focus on such as Golden Nashwan, who is trained by Peter Chapple- Hyam, and Green Green Desert (Michael Stoute). Dumaani (John Dunlop) and East Of The Moon (Andre Fabre) are other lightly raced three-year- olds of whom much is expected.

As for the more exposed Classic contenders, it should not be forgotten that Generous appeared an unexceptional Dewhurst Stakes winner in 1990 but went on to win the Derby and King George. Grand Lodge could yet do the same, while Stonehatch, half a length behind him in Newmarket's top juvenile event, is reported to have emerged from the winter in robust health.

'I'm mad about Stonehatch,' Peter Chapple-Hyam said this week. 'If I can get him there right he'll take all the beating in the Guineas.' The interesting point here is that in the ante-post betting the colt is twice the price of the same trainer's Golden Nashwan. A 20-1 voucher about Stonehatch might be worth having on Guineas morning.

Though there are no obvious champions among the horses, the same is not true of the humans. Sand has played a leading part in the winter exertions of Pat Eddery and Lanfranco Dettori, but while the reigning champion has worked on his tan in the tropics, Dettori has had 51 winners on the all-weather tracks.

The jockeys' title now makes no distinction between turf and sand winners, so Dettori's lead is surely already decisive, barring injury or a long suspension. Not that Eddery will necessarily make up ground during the turf season, since Dettori has finally achieved a position, as stable jockey to John Gosden, which is in keeping with his exceptional talent.

An Italian-born champion jockey would perhaps be appropriate in a season which may see national boundaries breached as never before. When Dermot Weld sent Vintage Crop from Ireland to win last November's Melbourne Cup, many British handlers realised that big purses abroad were no longer an impossible dream.

This week, Mark Johnston, the Middleham trainer, is in California preparing Quick Ransom for two handicaps worth a total of dollars 650,000. Clive Brittain, meanwhile, is aiming Cedez Le Passage at the Kentucky Derby.

Others are sure to follow their lead. Though the cricket team is hopeless and the footballers will be in the United States as tourists, Britain's horses may take on the world as never before this summer.

(Photograph omitted)

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