Racing: Tomba and Meehan on the upgrade

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The Independent Online
Twenty-one runners stood their ground yesterday at the latest declaration stage for the Whitbread Gold Cup at Sandown, which to most punters will mean two things. First, there is at least one decent steeplechase to look forward to before the jumpers shuffle off to their summer quarters, but also, since Whitbread day on 26 April features the Thresher Classic Trial on its undercard, that serious re-education in the merits of the leading members of the three-year-old generation can be delayed no longer.

Indeed, the start of the major Classic Trial cycle is less than a week away, with the Craven meeting at Newmarket due to open next Tuesday. In France the run-in to the Guineas starts at Maisons-Laffitte tomorrow with the Prix Djebel, for colts, and the Prix Imprudence, for fillies, in which last year's Cheveley Park Stakes winner, Pas De Reponse, will start her build-up to the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarketon 4 May.

Criquette Head, the filly's trainer, wins the Imprudence - which returns to Maisons-Laffitte from now-defunct Evry - with such regularity that most other trainers have long-since decided to leave her to it. So just three rivals, Psylla, Imia and Barnata, will line up against Pas De Reponse tomorrow.

It will be a major surprise if Pas De Reponse does not confirm her reservation on the trip to Newmarket, and anyone who feels she is likely to become Mme Head's fourth winner of the fillies' Classic might do well to step into the ante-post market today at odds of around 8-1.

The second trial on the card, the Djebel, was won two years ago by Pennekamp, the subsequent 2,000 Guineas winner, and also marked the starting-point of Zafonic's three-year-old campaign, but the latest renewal may have more bearing on Classics elsewhere in Europe.

British stables cleaned up in France's major two-year-old events last season, and the Djebel may offer a preliminary guide as to whether that dominance will be carried over to the Classic generation, with two British runners travelling to take on a four-strong home team led by Alpha Plus (Andre Fabre) and Nombre Premier (Alain du Royer-Dupre).

Fantastic Fellow, trained by Clive Brittain, goes on trial for the Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2,000 Guineas), while Brian Meehan's Tomba has the German equivalent on his agenda.

Meehan, a growing force in the training ranks whose Lambourn stable is now home to an 80-strong team, 50 of which are two-year-olds, is unequivocal about Tomba's chance tomorrow. "He'd be one of our better three-year-olds," the trainer said yesterday, "and he's going to France because we think he'll win."

Victory would certainly not be a surprise, since Tomba improved throughout his busy seven-race campaign last season, which concluded with victory in a Listed event at Evry, while Meehan's string has been in good form from the first day of the turf season, when he saddled the juvenile Blueridge Dancer to win the Brocklesby Stakes at Doncaster.

"It's hard going," Meehan said, "you've always got to keep improving, but we've consistently done okay and we're all enjoying it."

So much so, in fact, that he can even reflect in positive mood on the length or so which separated Tumbleweed Ridge from victory in the Lincoln and his trainer from collecting on a lucrative win-double launched the previous week by Mr Mulligan's victory in the Gold Cup.

"It was," Meehan says with a philosophical air which most punters would struggle to match, "close enough for us to be pleased."

The serious money in the 2,000 Guineas market yesterday was attaching itself to the fortunes of a horse trained by another of the younger generation of trainers, Peter Chapple-Hyam. Ladbrokes cut the Manton trainer's Revoque, the winner of two Group One juvenile events in France last season, to 9-2 from 11-2 for the first colts' Classic. That puts him within striking distance at the head of the market of the Godolphin candidate Shamikh, who will not return to Britain until shortly before the Guineas meeting.

2,000 Guineas (Newmarket, 3 May) Ladbrokes: 3-1 Shamikh, 9-2 Revoque, 8-1 Indiscreet, 12-1 Entrepreneur, Putra, 14-1 Poteen, Cape Cross, 16- 1 Musical Pursuit, Zamindar, 20-1 In Command, 25-1 Za-Im, 33-1 others.

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