There was a time when the 2,000 Guineas was almost a foregone conclusion after the Craven Stakes had been run. That time has passed.
It was a rather pitiful commentary on what the Classic trial has become when a revised price was scribbled up about the winner, Desert Story, yesterday. This was a colt who finished runner-up in the Royal Lodge Stakes and captured the Horris Hill last year, an animal whose trainer Michael Stoute has been planting flags of victory across the world since last autumn. Yet a price of 14-1 for the first Classic on 3 May hardly had the hordes bashing at the portcullis.
There are many horses ahead of Desert Story in the betting and, tellingly, some of them will be making their seasonal debuts in the Guineas. As the plums of late season are continually added to the programme book, the distressing information for traditionalists also seems to be that the Guineas has almost taken on the role of a prep race.
Stoute, nevertheless, will be happy to collect the bauble for Freemason Lodge. He would not rubbish the Craven, as this was his sixth success in the Group Three contest, and two of those, Shadeed and Doyoun, went on to collect the 2,000.
The trainer is also more excited about Desert Story than others have been. "This horse goes along nice and quietly and he never gets shouted about, though his form is excellent and he's progressive," Stoute said. "I think he'll run very well in the 2,000. He's a lovely type of horse in every way, medium-sized, balanced and seems to go on either ground."
In second place was Grapeshot, who will now be stepped up in distance, while third went to Cape Cross, who possesses the sort of backside you see in black and white movies, by the side of a bucket on the floor of a colonial house kitchen. This is assumed to be the physique of a sprinter, though the men behind Cape Cross still think he can be a force in three weeks' time. Indeed, Frankie Dettori told his trainer, John Gosden, that he would never again finish behind the first two.
A further Guineas factor could be Stoute's Entrepreneur, who worked yesterday after racing. When the Newmarket man celebrated Singspiel's victory in the Dubai World Cup (with a liquid other than his name might suggest) he was seen to hug members of the Fourth Estate - which was rather like witnessing a mongoose waltz with a cobra. He was back to his stonewall best yesterday. They could have pulled his nails out or strapped him in a dentist's chair and the man would still not have divulged the relative merits of Entrepreneur and Desert Story.
Entrepreneur is already favourite for the Derby, and another wno made inroads in the Epsom market yesterday was Fahris, winner of the Feilden Stakes. Before the froth of activity had been hosed from his chestnut neck, William Hill had halved his price from 50-1 and Ladbrokes went 16- 1.
While Fahris was sweaty, his trainer, Ben Hanbury, was typically slick of dress and tongue, and was soon congratulating Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum for his perspicacity in placing the horse with him. It must be difficult to ignore the claims of a man who goes to the trouble of making sure his breast-pocket handkerchief and socks match.
2,000 GUINEAS (Newmarket, 3 May): Tote: 7-2 Shamikh, 4-1 (from 11-2) Revoque, 8-1 Hidden Meadow, 10-1 Entrepreneur, 12-1 (from 33-1) Desert Story, 20-1 Cape Cross; William Hill: 3-1 Shamikh, 4-1 (from 5-1) Revoque, 8-1 (from 10-1) Entrepreneur, 9-1 Hidden Meadow, 12-1 Indiscreet, Musical Pursuit & Putra, 14-1 (from 33-1) Desert Story & Poteen.Reuse content