What with the dogs at Perry Barr and the creaking steeplechasers at Exeter, punters in Britain's betting shops had little chance to study the runners as they paraded before the Nell Gwyn Stakes here yesterday, and for this the people who run Britain's betting shops are no doubt grateful. Ten fillies trotted nervously around the paddock, but health and happiness radiated from every square inch of Reunion's gleaming coat, and the only surprise when she returned to the winners' enclosure 15 minutes later was that she had been allowed to start at 8-1.
Yet Reunion could be twice that price if she follows the accepted path for a Nell Gwyn winner and returns to the Rowley Mile for the 1,000 Guineas on 4 May. The Tote offer 20-1 about her chance in the first fillies' Classic, which reflects the relative unfamiliarity of John Hills, her trainer, when compared to, say, his father Barry, who saddled yesterday's runner- up, Elegant Warning. Indeed, the enclosure was knee-deep with Hills, since John's brothers, Richard and Michael, were aboard the first two home.
John Hills may lag behind his father in terms of Classic winners, but another statistic offers an alternative view. He has saddled just three runners in British Classics, but two of them, Broadway Flyer (1994 St Leger) and Wind In Her Hair (1994 Oaks) finished second, and with Reunion clearly as forward as any filly in Britain (those in Dubai, of course, are another matter), another placing at least is a distinct possibility.
"We always knew she had ability, she's been going well at home and I fancied her today," Hills said. "When you win a race like this and you think you've got a nice one you've got to go and take your chance in the Guineas. It will be interesting to see what happens in the Fred Darling on Friday [when Sleepytime, ante-post favourite for the 1,000, makes her seasonal debut], but there will be quite a few fillies having their first run in the Guineas. Ours has had only three runs so hopefully she'll find a bit more."
Hills snr has yet to decide whether Elegant Warning, who was running on again at the end of yesterday's seven furlongs, will reoppose the winner at Newmarket. Similar uncertainty surrounds Za-Im, the trainer's second runner-up of the day, who finished just a neck behind Poteen in the conditions event but whose participation in the 2,000 Guineas, for which he is 25- 1 from 40-1 with William Hill, depends on whether Sheikh Hamdan can come up with anything better before 3 May.
Poteen, however, will definitely line up for the Guineas, and Luca Cumani was pleased with yesterday's performance, even if those who took odds of 1-3 were fretting until well inside the final furlong. "I'm very happy because he is still a good two weeks away from fitness," Cumani said. "That's why I ran him today. I wanted to get two more gallops into him before the Guineas and if we had gone to the Greenham [at Newbury on Saturday] I would only have had time for one."
Poteen's Classic odds were unchanged with all the major layers (14-1 with William Hill is the best around), and the ante-post market on the race may be unusually static between now and the big day. With the exception of Revoque, who runs in the Greenham, not one of the seven colts at the top of the Tote's betting (and that goes up to the 16-1 chances) is expected to run before the 2,000. So anyone stepping in to take a price before they are sure that their selection is, firstly, sound of limb, and secondly, down at the start, is playing a dangerous game.
For bookmakers this is desperate news, and they resorted with predictably desperate measures. Shawaf, from John Dunlop's yard, won the seven-furlong maiden readily enough, but the subsequent quotes of 25-1 for the 2,000 must be treated with the contempt they deserve.