A total of 14 horses have been declared for the first Classic of the 2006 Flat turf season, the £330,000 Stan James 2000 Guineas, run over the NatWest Rowley Mile at Newmarket on Saturday, May 6.
All of the main contenders run, including the ante-post favourite George Washington, the leading European two-year-old of last year and one of three runners for Aidan O'Brien. The champion Irish trainer, seeking his fourth success in the Stan James 2000 Guineas, is also represented by Horatio Nelson, runner-up in last season's Group One Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket and Frost Giant, a Group Three scorer at Leopardstown last season.
The other powerhouse of European racing, the Maktoum family's Godolphin operation, is chasing a third success in the Classic and will be represented by Opera Cape, successful in the Group Three Solario Stakes at Sandown in 2005. He was last seen out when third in the Darley Dewhurst Stakes in October, when in the care of Sylvester Kirk.
The best hope of this year's Stan James 2000 Guineas falling to a British-trained horse would appear to rest with Sir Percy, trained by Marcus Tregoning. Sired by the 1996 2000 Guineas victor Mark Of Esteem, the colt was undefeated in four starts last season, culminating with victory over Horatio Nelson in the Group One Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket on October 15, which enabled him to end the campaign as officially the best juvenile colt in Britain.
Another of the leading British-trained two-year-olds of 2005, Amadeus Wolf, will be out to gain a first Classic success for Yorkshire-based trainer Kevin Ryan. The son of Mozart gained three wins last season, recording his most significant victory in the Group One Shadwell Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket on September 30.
Richard Hannon, aiming for a fourth victory in the Stan James 2000 Guineas, saddles Asset, an impressive winner of the Listed Easter Stakes at Kempton on his seasonal reappearance, while Epsom handler Terry Mills, seeking a first British Classic success, runs Close To You, successful in the Listed International Trial Stakes on the all-weather at Lingfield on April 8.
Both of the main trial winners from Newmarket's Craven Meeting are set to line up. Killybegs landed the Group Three Unicorn Asset Management Craven Stakes in decisive fashion on April 20 while Misu Bond also caught the eye when the neck victor of the Listed banshahousestables.com European Free Handicap a day earlier.
Barry Hills, trainer of Killybegs, is chasing a third Stan James 2000 Guineas and also runs Red Clubs, runner-up to Amadeus Wolf in last season's Shadwell Middle Park Stakes and successful on his seasonal reappearance in the Group Three Lane's End Greenham Stakes at Newbury on April 22, plus Olympian Odyssey, who looked an unlucky loser when beaten a short-head in the Connaught Access Flooring Feilden Stakes at Newmarket on April 20.
No current trainer can boast such an impressive record in the Stan James 2000 Guineas as Sir Michael Stoute, who has won the mile contest on five previous occasions. The master of Freemason Lodge is represented this year by Final Verse, victorious in a Doncaster maiden last season and second in the Group Three Stan James Horris Hill Stakes at Newbury on his final start of 2005.
Completing the field is Araafa from the Jeremy Noseda yard, who was last seen out when third in the Group Three Stan James Horris Hill Stakes at Newbury in October.
RAIN NOW UNLIKELY BEFORE FRIDAY NIGHT
The thundery showers forecast for Newmarket on Thursday night/Friday morning are now not expected until Friday night and into Saturday, according to the latest weather reports, though John Kettley does give a 30% chance of some showers tonight.
The current prediction for rain between Friday night and Saturday afternoon is 6 millimetres, but it could be more if a thundery cell comes overhead. Once this rain clears on Saturday afternoon, it is forecast to be dry for the rest of the weekend.
Michael Prosser, Clerk of the Course, commented at lunchtime: "It is getting up to 24 degrees today and the ground is quickening up all the time. I will be walking the course from 2.30pm and will give my going report later this afternoon.
"The rain is still due, albeit 24 hours later than we were forecast earlier in the week. Unless there is another change in the forecast tomorrow morning which indicates that the thundery rain will not hit us after all, I will not be watering the course. It is out of the question to do so with the weather forecast as it stands."
PROSSER EXPLAINS DECISION TO PUT THE STALLS IN THE MIDDLE
Michael Prosser, Newmarket's Clerk of the Course, said: "The stalls for both the Stan James 2000 Guineas on Saturday and the Stan James 1000 Guineas on Sunday will be placed in the centre of the course as in the past two years when no one could argue that the best horse did not win our two classics.
"The last time that the stalls were on the stands' side, back in 2003, there was a particularly rough race for the 1000 Guineas, in which there was several hard luck stories, including the favourite, Six Perfections. There was also interference in the 2000 Guineas that year, with Indian Haven, who went on to win the Irish equivalent, a particular sufferer. It seems pointless to risk a repetition so we will stick with the middle which should ensure a level playing field for all."
TICKETS AVAILABLE AT THE COURSE FOR BOTH DAYS
There have so far been record advance bookings for a Newmarket Saturday on Stan James 2000 Guineas Day, though bookings for Sunday are down on last year. It is believed that this is due to the fact that Stan James 1000 Guineas Day is usually followed by Bank Holiday Monday, which is not the case this year.
Lisa Hancock, Managing Director of Newmarket Racecourses, commented: "We should be in for a great crowd on Saturday, but we have never sold out on the NatWest Rowley Mile so there will be no problem in buying tickets at the gate on the day. Sunday looks like being a smaller crowd, but with such a fantastic card and a good weather forecast, I hope a lot of people will come along on the day"
For more information, visit www.newmarketracecourses.co.uk or call 01638 675 500.
PRE-RACING VISITS SOLD OUT
The pre-racing "Home of Horseracing" visits organised by the racecourse to William Haggas's stables on Saturday and Rossdale's equine hospital on Sunday have both sold out.
Lisa Hancock, Managing Director of Newmarket Racecourses, said: "The response has been phenomenal and I am only sorry that we had to limit the visits to 50 people. Racegoers are clearly interested in the idea of getting behind the scenes at the Home of Horseracing and Newmarket has so much to offer in this respect. We will be organising visits to other venues on our major racedays later in the year, but I can warmly recommend the tours organised by the National Horseracing Museum, Hoofbeats and the National Stud throughout the flat racing season, details of which can be found at http://www.newmarketexperience.co.uk/ or by calling 01638 667200."
Latest Stan James 2000 Guineas betting
15/8 George Washington, 7/2 Sir Percy, 13/2 Amadeus Wolf, 13/2 Horatio Nelson, 12/1 Asset, 14/1 Killybegs, 18/1 Opera Cape, Olympian Odyssey, 25/1 Red Clubs, 40/1 Final Verse, Misu Bond, 66/1 Araafa, Frost Giant, Close To You
THE STAN JAMES 2000 GUINEAS
Class 1, Group 1 Race, £330,000 Total Prize Fund. Newmarket, Saturday, May 6, 2006, NatWest Rowley Mile. For three-year-olds only, entire colts and fillies. Weights: Colts 9st; fillies 8st 11lb. Entries closed March 1. Entries released March 7 (78 entries), forfeit stage April 25 (23 remain), £25,000 supplementary entry stage May 1, five-day declaration stage noon (18 remain), May 1; final declaration stage 10:00am (14 remain), May 4. Form figures supplied by Weatherbys and are correct up to and including the racing of Wednesday, May 3, 2006. May not include some overseas form.