04/27/2009 11:00PM

2000 Guineas tough on favorites


Two hundred years ago this Saturday, eight 3-year-old colts lined up at the far end of the Rowley Mile at Newmarket Racecourse in Suffolk, England. About a minute and 40 seconds later, Wizard became the first winner of the 2000 Guineas, a race that radically altered the way in which the world of Thoroughbred racing was structured.

The Guineas was instituted as an early season test of speed over the straight and undulating Rowley Mile at a distance that was still rarely tried in the early days of the 19th century. Within a few years it had become fashionable for Guineas winners to test their ability at 1 1/2 miles in the Epsom Derby five weeks later. If a horse could withstand the challenges of both the Guineas and the Derby, he was then expected to go on to Doncaster's stamina testing St. Leger Stakes at 1 3/4-miles, 132 yards in early September.

That series became racing's first triple crown, a three-race trial of speed, athleticism and staying power, quite different from the American Triple Crown, and one that has not been won since since 1970 by the immortal Nijinsky.

On Monday, 23 horses were left in the five-day entry box for the 201st running of the classic 2000 Guineas. None of them will go off at a price nearly as short as the 1853 winner, the 4-6 West Australian, who would become the first British Triple Crown winner, or the 4-5 Isinglass, who took the Triple Crown 40 years later and who held the world record for career earnings until 1943, or Nijinsky, who went off as the 4-7 choice to kick start his Triple Crown.

In fact, the only favorite to win the Guineas in the last 15 years was the 3-2 George Washington in 2006. Delegator will occupy that precarious position on Saturday. Currently 7-2 with Ladbrokes, the Brian Meehan-trained son of Dansili had valuable experience of the Rowley Mile when winning the Group 3 Craven Stakes on April 16. Among his rivals on Saturday will be at least two horses from the Ballydoyle yard of Aidan O'Brien, who has trained three of the last four Guineas winners.

There is a cloud hanging over the 4-1 Rip Van Winkle, O'Brien's Galileo-Stravinsky cross who failed as the favorite in the Dewhurst Stakes in October and who suffered a foot bruise on Monday. His stablemate, the 5-1 two-time Group 1 winner Mastercraftsman, was only fourth in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere last fall. Like 12 of the 23 Guineas possibles, he will be making his seasonal debut on Saturday. The Michael Stoute-trained Evasive, fourth favorite at 8-1, suffered a foot abscess last week but is back in training. This Guineas is wide open and it would not be surprising to see an outsider cop the prize.

Conversely, Sunday's 1000 Guineas belongs to the undefeated Rainbow View until proven otherwise. George Strawbridge's daughter of Dynaformer is generally 5-4 for the fillies classic, her price lowering from 13-8 after he decided on Monday to send his seven-length Nell Gwyn Stakes winner Fantasia to the French 1000 Guineas a week from Sunday. Rainbow View was paid a compliment last week at Keeneland when her Thunder Gulch half-sister Winter View cruised to victory in the 1 1/2-mile Bewitch Stakes, an indication that if the John Gosden-trained Rainbow View can land the odds on Saturday, she can do likewise in the English Oaks on June 5.