Though the best French filly, Zarkava, will remain at home for her 1,000 Guineas, the second best, Natagora, is on course to try to become the first Gallic raider to take the Rowley Mile Classic since Hatoof 16 years ago. After a thoroughly competent performance at Maisons-Laffitte yesterday, she shares favouritism for the Newmarket feature. And after seeing the grey cope admirably with her first try at seven furlongs in the Prix Imprudence, John Dunlop, who has charge of another of the strongest fancies, Muthabara, said: "I rather hope she stays in France."
Natagora, trained by Pascal Bary, put the home side to the sword on her last trip across the Channel, when she won the Cheveley Park Stakes in October over six furlongs of the Guineas course, the last of five juvenile wins from seven races for the daughter of Divine Light.
Yesterday, on heavy ground, Christophe Lemaire had only to nudge his strong, scopey partner clear with hands and heels for her to dispose of three-time winner Modern Look by a cosy length and a half. The Imprudence, named after France's first post-war Newmarket Guineas winner, is the most reliable trial there, having produced Hatoof, Ravinella and Miesque.
"It all went very well," said Patrick Barbe, racing manager to Natagora's owner, Stefan Friborg. "She won on the bridle on softer going and a further distance than she has run over before, so it was all a good sign ahead of the Guineas. Christophe was very happy too, pleased with her condition. Now we head to Newmarket."
Five years ago Bary supplied the favourite for the Guineas in the excellent Six Perfections who, like Natagora, won a Group One contest at two (the Prix Marcel Boussac) and warmed up in the Prix Imprudence. But thanks mainly to a comedy ride from Thierry Thulliez, she finished second, to Russian Rhythm.
Muthabara, who is scheduled to make her seasonal debut in the Dubai Duty Free Stakes at Newbury on Saturday, is unbeaten in two outings but has not raced since winning at Sandown in July. The Red Ransom bay shot to prominence in the betting after making a deep impression on Richard Hills when he rode her in a racecourse gallop at Goodwood two weeks ago.
"He was impressed; I was satisfied," s aid Dunlop, who won the latest of his three 1,000 Guineas with another Sheikh Hamdan colourbearer, Shadayid, 17 years ago. "But she's very well and has done everything right since, though she is still quite wintry in her coat."
The same caveat came yesterday from Mick Channon over one of Muthabara's possible rivals at Newbury, Nahoodh. "She is still hairy and is taking a long time to lose her coat," he said. "But she has so much scope, and I am very keen to run her at the weekend."
Nahoodh, a grey by Clodovil, won last year's Lowther Stakes, with Cheveley Park runner-up Fleeting Spirit back in third. Her stablemate Nijoom Dubai, in the same Jaber Abdullah ownership, is one of 14 fillies who will run in the first major domestic Guineas trial, tomorrow's Nell Gwyn Stakes at Newmarket. "She is the more forward of the pair," added Channon, "and the run will put her spot-on for the big one. I think Nahoodh is the better filly, but I do love them both."
Of Nell Gwyn acceptors, John Gosden's charge Infallible, winner of her only race last year, is the shortest-priced Guineas entry at 16-1 with sponsors Stan James.
The third of the fillies vying for top spot at the head of the market, Spacious, will appear at Newmarket this week, though not competitively. "She's not ready for a race," said trainer James Fanshawe of the Nayef filly, "but we'll take her for a day out to the racecourse."
In Dubai yesterday Godolphin's three 2,000 Guineas contenders had their last serious workout before leaving Al Quoz next week for their summer base in Newmarket. Third favourite Ibn Khaldun, with Kerrin McEvoy on board, worked with Fast Company; Rio De La Plata was partnered by Frankie Dettori in his spin with a lesser lead horse. "That will put them spot-on," said trainer Saeed bin Suroor. "We'll run two at Newmarket and one will go to France, and we will delay the decision until we know what the ground is like. Fast Company is the one that will not want fast ground."
2,000 Guineas (3 May): William Hill: 5-2 New Approach, 11-2 Raven's Pass, Ibn Khaldun, 8-1 Jupiter Pluvius, 12-1 Fast Company, 16-1 Confront, Henrythenavigator, Twice Over, 20-1 others.
1,000 Guineas (4 May): William Hill: 9-2 Muthabara, 5-1 Spacious, 5-1 Natagora (from 8-1), 8-1 Zarkava, 8-1 Sense Of Joy, 11-1 Cape Amber, 12-1 Psalm, 14-1 Kitty Matcham, Nahoodh, 16-1 Infallible, Laureldean Gale, 20-1 others.
Nap: Judge 'N Jury(Warwick 3.30)
NB: Overclear (Exeter 2.40)