Racing: Xaar dispatched to face public trial in Paris

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By Greg Wood

SIX MONTHS is a very long time to wait for an even-money chance, but any punters whose summer holiday depends on Xaar winning the 2,000 Guineas will at last have an idea of whether it will be Bali or Bognor when Andre Fabre's colt makes his three-year-old debut this week. The Dewhurst Stakes winner was yesterday confirmed as a runner in the Prix Djebel at Maisons- Laffitte on Thursday, a race which should bring him to peak fitness for the Classic at Newmarket on 2 May.

Given that he is such a short price for the 2,000 Guineas, however, the reasoning behind Xaar's reappearance in the Djebel is not entirely encouraging. The ground at Maisons-Laffitte, a few miles north of Paris, is softer than the colt's connections would like, but in a statement to the Press Association, Grant Pritchard-Gordon, racing manager to Xaar's owner, Khalid Abdullah, said that "Andre Fabre advises us that Xaar needs a race to put him right for Newmarket". He added, however, that "Fabre has been entirely happy with the colt's preparation so far".

Xaar's supporters will point out, perhaps correctly, that he might not need to be at his best to win the Guineas, such was the manner of his seven-length defeat of Tamarisk in the Dewhurst over seven furlongs of the Rowley Mile last October. It is also worth remembering that Zafonic, the sire of Xaar, was beaten in the Djebel on his seasonal debut five years ago, but still had no trouble beating Barathea, a subsequent Breeders' Cup Mile winner, at Newmarket a few weeks later.

It is a relief for punters that Xaar should see a racecourse before he lines up for the Guineas itself, but a different approach is being taken with other leading Classic candidates. Aidan O'Brien's King Of Kings will go straight to Newmarket (if indeed he runs at all), while the Dubai-based Godolphin team will, as usual, arrive back in Britain just a few days before the Guineas meeting.

Instead, we can only rely on the trickle of information from the Newmarket gallops, where the major strings are now engaging in serious work with the Craven meeting, the first of the year at Headquarters and the effective starting point of the Flat campaign, now just a week away. Bitter experience teaches us that for every touted horse which makes the grade, there are a dozen more which do not, and for whom a trail of discarded ante-post slips is the only evidence that they ever existed. But optimism is unavoidable at this time of the year and there are several three-year-olds with Classic entries making frequent appearances in the work-watchers notebooks.

Chief among them, perhaps, is Fleetwood, who is trained by Henry Cecil and a 25-1 chance for the 2,000 Guineas with Hills on the strength of an eight-length win in a Haydock maiden and a series of impressive early- morning displays. A filly from Warren Place, Jibe, is another to impress the bleary-eyed spies on the Heath, while Exclusive, from Michael Stoute's yard, is also making a deep impression, and may prove to be Newmarket's best hope in the 1,000 Guineas against the representatives of Godolphin (Cape Verdi and Embassy) and France, in the shape of Criquette Head's Loving Claim.

This year's Newmarket Classics will be the first to be run under the banner of the Guineas meeting's new sponsor, Sagitta, an asset-management firm which will do lots of worthwhile things with your money so long as you have a spare $50,000 to invest. Whether a large win bet on Xaar would be among their recommendations should become much clearer in 48 hours.