Racing: Theatre performance a poor Classic rehearsal: The Craven Stakes winner may struggle on a bigger stage

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The Independent Online
NEVER mind a Guineas trial, the advance publicity said, this year the Craven Stakes is the 2,000 Guineas. At the very least, with four of the first five in the wide-open Classic market taking their chance, we could be sure of finding a hot favourite for the race itself.

Of course, they forgot to tell the horses. As a race, it was marvellous, and the frantic conclusion in which King's Theatre beat Colonel Collins and Suplizi by a short-head and the same was more than worth the spectators' entrance money. As a trial, it was hopeless. A slow early pace brought a tight finish, and while the names are a little different this morning, the first colt's Classic is still priced up like a sprint handicap.

The first three home are now jostling for favouritism at around 7-1, while Grand Lodge, market leader throughout the winter but only sixth yesterday, is out to 14-1 with Ladbrokes. Out of the betting entirely is Green Green Desert, unsighted yesterday after starting favourite at 11-4.

If determination alone could win Classics, King's Theatre would now be close to odds-on. Henry Cecil's colt, who was giving 5lb to all but two of his nine opponents, seemed sure to succumb to the persistent challenge of Colonel Collins in the last few yards after leading for much of the race. Indeed, the runner-up nosed ahead for a stride, but that was enough to draw a final, conclusive lunge from King's Theatre.

'He takes time to get going,' Michael Kinane, the winning jockey, said. 'The other horse just headed me but then my fellow got back to work.' He did so, incidentally, under a hands-and-heels ride, Kinane having dropped his whip 100 yards from home.

No amount of effort, though, would have saved the winner from Suplizi's late challenge had the contest lasted for another five yards. Ray Cochrane struggled to find running room on Luca Cumani's lightly raced colt, but when a space opened the horse produced astounding speed and would surely have won with an easier passage.

His was a welcome performance if only because it added a new name to the rather stale Classic market, and marked a reawakening for the Cumani stable. 'I keep reading that I'm out of fashion,' the trainer said, 'but we ran here to see if he was good enough for a Guineas and now the English Guineas is very much on the cards.'

Henry Cecil too had been struggling for form, his horses held back by the wet spring, until King's Theatre added to the success of Cicerao in the Fielden Stakes 35 minutes earlier. The regard in which Cecil is held by the punting public will probably ensure that King's Theatre starts favourite for the 2,000 Guineas (though Just Happy and Redoubtable are two who could yet take over with a clear-cut win in a prep race).

A point to consider before joining the rush is that the going yesterday was, most unusually, soft. King's Theatre has yet to win on anything faster than good ground, but the perpetual wind across Newmarket Heath ensures that the course dries faster than any in the country. By Guineas day it could easily be good to firm. Whether King's Theatre could then reproduce yesterday's form must be in doubt.

A final Classic clue was the post-race support for Peter Chapple-Hyam's Turtle Island, now a 20-1 chance from 33-1 with Coral. Though Chapple- Hyam, trainer of Colonel Collins, was confident that yesterday's runner-up will show considerable improvement, someone in the stable clearly feels that Turtle Island is a more likely Classic winner.

Brent Thomson, the Australian jockey, was forced to give up the ride on Colonel Collins as has been told by the Home Office that he must leave the country and return after 20 days to qualify for a work permit.

2,000 GUINEAS (30 April). Coral: 6-1 King's Theatre, 8-1 Colonel Collins, Suplizi, 12-1 Golden Nashwan, Grand Lodge, 14-1 Owington, Redoubtable, 16-1 others.

William Hill: 6-1 Suplizi, 7-1 Colonel Collins, King's Theatre, 10-1 Grand Lodge, 12-1 others.

Ladbrokes: 6-1 King's Theatre, 8-1 Colonel Collins, Suplizi, 12-1 Just Happy, Owington, 14- 1 Grand Lodge, Golden Nashwan, 16-1 others.