Classic hopes high for Cecil
A MASSIVE market move is expected on the Rowley Mile at Newmarket today for the lightly raced Epagris, who bids to become the first winner of a British Classic run on a Sunday when she lines up in the Madagans 1,000 Guineas.
Henry Cecil, the filly's trainer, has been surprisingly bullish about her chances and predicts a vast improvement on her last outing when she was beaten into second place by Myself in the Nell Gwyn Stakes, one of the established Guineas trials.
'I think she has improved 10 lengths since the Nell Gywn,' said Cecil in a noteworthy statement.
If the filly has, then she will kick aside the opposition provided by Aqaarid, Harayir and the Dubai raider Moonshell.
This is a red-letter day for British racing as more than 25,000 people are expected to pack the rather inadequate facilities on the Rowley Mile to witness the first Classic run on a Sunday in this country.
Britain has lagged behind Hong Kong and other major racing countries in resisting calls for change to permit Sunday racing - until now. A lot will be riding on the success or otherwise of this venture and among the most interested in the outcome will be Epsom.
Demands for the Derby to be switched to a Sunday can be examined a little more closely - and more authoritatively - after the Guineas crowd have been catered for.
The weather in the past week has been more like high summer, when the popular July meeting is held. It will be a case of shirt sleeves, and in many instances, no shirt at all.
But back to the racing and the 1,000 Guineas, in which many of the fillies engaged will have appreciated the arrival of warmer weather. Willie Carson supplied the latest Classic clues this week when he announced that he is to ride Aqaarid.
It has been rare for veteran Carson, 52, to get it wrong when he has been faced with a choice of mounts in a Classic, but as he quipped mischievously: 'I suppose I'm overdue for a reverse.' Bookmakers disagree, however, with Hills shortening Aqaarid to 9-4 favourite, from 11-4.
In the 1,000 Guineas, Carson had to decide between Aqaarid, the impressive winner of the Fred Darling Stakes at Newbury, and Harayir, runner-up to the colt Diffident in the European Free Handicap, giving weight all round.
Aqaarid and Harayir are owned by Sheik Hamdan Al-Maktoum, whose reputation as the luckiest owner of the four Maktoum brothers from Dubai will again be put to the test at Newmarket over the weekend.
Richard Hills, second jockey to Sheik Hamdan, now comes in for the ride on Harayir in the 1,000 Guineas - the filly has eased to 100-30 from 3-1 yesterday.
Angus Gold, racing manager to Sheik Hamdan, said last night: 'It was a very difficult decision for Willie to make choosing between Aqaarid and Harayir, and I do not think there was one clear factor to influence it either way.' At Newbury last month, Carson found it hard to conceal his admiration for Aqaarid, who showed an ability to quicken twice in the home straight in the Fred Darling.
'She will not be out of the first four in the Guineas, I can guarantee you that,' he said with a chuckle at the time.
Both Carson and Dunlop were surprised that Aqaarid was still available at liberal odds after the Newbury trial, in which the filly comfortably accounted for the Michael Bell-trained Hoh Magic, winner of last year's Prix Morny at Deauville.
Perhaps the most interesting runner in this Guineas is the Dubai-trained Moonshell, who was formerly trained by Cecil before she was whisked away to the desert for Sheik Mohammed's Godolphin racing stable.
Reports from Dubai suggest she has done extremely well during the months she has been there. Simon Crisford, racing manager for Godolphin, said: 'She has never missed a day's work, which I suppose could not be said for many of those back in Britain.
'I would rather play down Moonshell's chances. After all, she is the winner of a Doncaster maiden going straight into a Classic. But having said that, I would not put anyone off her. She has done incredibly well and we are hopeful that she will run a big race,' he said.
The factor against Moonshell, in my view, is the likely fast ground. She is by Sadler's Wells and is bred to get a mile and a half, so whatever she does in the 1,000 Guineas, she is almost certain to improve on at her next outing when stepped up in distance.