With just five days left in the countdown to the 200th 2,000 Guineas, the presence of an unbeaten hot-shot has not proved a deterrent to potential rivals, with 19 colts left in the first Classic at yesterday's penultimate stage. Three of them are from the Godolphin stable, three from arch-rival operation Ballydoyle. The old adage about multiple entries, paraphrased as "if you think you've got several, you probably haven't got one" is becoming increasingly redundant in this scattergun age.
The Dubai-based blues have Ibn Khaldun, Fast Company and Rio de La Plata still engaged in the quest for a third Guineas (after the outstanding Mark Of Esteem and the ordinary Island Sands), but only the first two will run. "Rio De la Plata will more than likely be going to France," confirmed the team's racing manager, Simon Crisford, yesterday.
The colts arrived at summer camp in Newmarket on Saturday and have settled in without a hitch. And the rain that started sprinkling Suffolk late yesterday afternoon was good news for Crisford, for Fast Company does not favour fast ground, and further precipitation is forecast today and tomorrow.
Ibn Khaldun, winner of the Racing Post Trophy last term, is third favourite for the Rowley Mile showpiece, behind New Approach and Raven's Pass, and will be the mount of Frankie Dettori. "It's good to go to war with a Group One winner," added Crisford, "but he will have to improve on that Doncaster form to win. I'm pleased to say we think he has, but it looks a highly competitive race."
The colt, by former Godolphin colourbearer Dubai Destination, was home-bred by Sheikh Mohammed. Fast Company, a son of Coolmore resident Danehill Dancer, was headhunted after winning the Acomb Stakes at York and proved that judgement sound by running New Approach to half a length in the Dewhurst Stakes.
The pair will have one more pipe-opener before Saturday. "Most of the work has been done in Dubai," said Crisford. "They shipped fine, they're in good form and it's all systems go."
Aidan O'Brien is going for his fifth Guineas, and third in four years, with Jupiter Pluvius perceived as his first string ahead of Henrythenavigator and outsider Plan. When King Of Kings won 10 years ago he was the only Ballydoyle runner, but Rock Of Gibraltar was one of four, Footstepsinthesand two and George Washington three.
Most yards, though, would be happy to field just a single runner in a Classic. And despite the enforced withdrawal of former leading fancy Winker Watson, Peter Chapple-Hyam has rustled up another, Fireside. The colt, winner of his maiden over seven furlongs of Saturday's course last October, missed his intended trial in the Greenham Stakes because of a minor infection, but has been burning up the gallops since.
The son of Dr Fong carries the colours of Highclere Thoroughbreds, whose racing manager, Harry Herbert, is more worried about lack of trackcraft than lack of ability. "We know he's a very good horse," he said, "but a prep race would have put him spot-on experience-wise. It looks like being a hell of a Guineas."
Victory would have a certain irony; the Guineas is sponsored by Stan James and the syndicate that owns Fireside comprises mostly rival bookmaker Victor Chandler and friends. "We have a pretty strict rule at Highclere that if you don't see yourself finishing in the first four then you shouldn't be running," Herbert said. "I put that to Peter and he said that he'd definitely run him on that basis. That was good enough for me."
In Sunday's 1,000 Guineas, 18 fillies stood their ground yesterday. The best as far as the betting is concerned are Infallible, Muthabara and Spacious for the home side, and French raider Natagora. No filly from France has won the youngest Classic since Hatoof in 1992, but Natagora was nominated yesterday by Jamie Spencer, rider of Spacious, as a big threat. "She'll be very difficult to beat," he said.
Stan James 2,000 Guineas (sponsor's ante-post odds): 2-1 New Approach, 4-1 Raven's Pass, 6-1 Ibn Khaldun, 8-1 Jupiter Pluvius, 12-1 Fast Company, 16-1 Henrythenavigator, Fireside, 20-1 Perfect Stride, Rio De La Plata, Stimulation, 25-1 Plan, 40-1 Moynahan, One Great Cat, 66-1 others
1,000 Guineas: 7-2 Infallible, 4-1 Muthabara, Natagora, 11-2 Spacious, 14-1 Kitty Matcham, Savethisdanceforme, 16-1 Laureldean Gale, Psalm, 20-1 Nahoodh, 25-1 Lush Lashes, 33-1 Halfway To Heaven, Saoirse Abu, Max One Two Three, 40-1 Lady Deauville, 50-1 others
Nap: Kahrayn(Wincanton 3.20)
NB: Font (Wincanton 4.20)