04/20/2007 12:00AM

Guineas a test of speed for the ages


NEW YORK - Newmarket will run the classic 2000 Guineas for the 199th time on Saturday. The first leg of the British Triple Crown, it has been held every year since Wizard took the inaugural running in 1809. Not even the havoc wrought by two world wars could deter English horsemen from trooping to the hallowed Rowley Mile to see which horse would prove the best springtime 3-year-old in the land.

Founded by the Jockey Club's director, Sir Charles Bunbury, as a lead-in to the more testing 1 1/2 miles of the Epsom Derby, the 2000 Guineas quickly asserted itself as what, in the early 19th century, was viewed as a test of speed for horses who were expected to carry that same quality over the Derby's longer distance. The idea was that to win generational tests at both eight and 12 furlongs at the highest class would establish a colt as having proved worthy of passing his blood into the Thoroughbred gene pool.

The 1813 Guineas winner, Smolensko, was the first to accomplish the Guineas-Derby double, and there have been 33 who have followed suit, although none since Nashwan in 1989. The 17 years since then is the longest period in history without a Guineas-Derby double, a manifestation perhaps, of the splitting of the Thoroughbred gene pool into separate puddles labeled "speed" and "stamina."

Still, there have been plenty of Guineas winners who did not win the Derby who have distinguished themselves at stud, not the least of whom was the 1834 winner, Glencoe. Imported to America, Glencoe would become champion American sire eight times, and it would be difficult to find an American Thoroughbred who is not descended from him.

Most of the great Guineas winners, however, have also proved adept over longer distances.

The 1853 Guineas victory of West Australian was the first step in the coronation of the first Triple Crown winner in any country, as he went on to win both the Derby and the St. Leger, the supreme test of 3-year-old stamina at 1 3/4 miles, 166 yards. Twelve years later, Gladiateur gave international racing its initial shot in the arm as he became the first French-bred to win the Guineas, as well as the Triple Crown.

Ormonde's 1886 Guineas victory came in the middle of his undefeated 16-race career and was one of the reasons the Triple Crown winner is widely regarded as the 19th century's best racehorse. Isinglass used his 1893 Guineas score as a stepping-stone to his own Triple Crown as well as a career earnings record that stood in England until 1950.

As fillies have their own mile classic in the 1000 Guineas, they rarely try the colts in the 2000. Not so the great Sceptre, who in 1902 beat the boys at their own game en route to a triple crown of her own fashioning, as she would go on to win both the English Oaks and the St. Leger. A year later, Rock Sand springboarded from the Guineas to win the Triple Crown before being imported to America, where he sired Mahubah, the dam of Man o' War.

The late 1960's began a period in European racing during which horses bred in North America became dominant. Kentucky-bred Sir Ivor landed the 1968 Guineas before doubling up in the Derby. He was a late example of that fading breed that could carry its speed to win at 1 1/2 miles. Perhaps the finest recent example of that type is Nijinsky, the superb Canadian-bred son of Northern Dancer who won the Guineas in 1970 and is the last horse to win the British Triple Crown.

Perhaps the greatest of all 2000 Guineas was run in 1971, when the 8- to 10-furlong type Brigadier Gerard upset the stayer Mill Reef. The trend toward speed continued in 1980, when the sprinter-miler Nureyev became the Guineas' most notorious loser when he was disqualified - some would say unjustly - and the race was awarded to Known Fact.

Following the Guineas-Derby doubles of Dancing Brave in 1986 and Nashwan three years later, the 2000 Guineas appears to have become a race for mile specialists.

Only the 2001 winner, Golan, would later win at 12 furlongs, while three others, Rodrigo de Triano, Refuse to Bend, and Haafhd, all later won going 10 furlongs.

This year's Guineas looks like a battle between a potential staying type in Teofilo, the favorite for the Epsom Derby who is a son of Galileo - winner of the Epsom and Irish derbies - and a sprinter by Medicean, Dutch Art, who will be trying to stretch his speed. They could be joined by a pure miler, US Ranger, a Storm Cat colt who prepped with a victory in Maisons-Laffitte's listed Prix Djebel, a race named for the 1940 winner of the 2000 Guineas.

Supporters of versatility in the Thoroughbred should be rooting for Teofilo. Inbred 3x4 to Northern Dancer via Sadler's Wells on the male side and Danzig on the maternal side, his broodmare sire, Danehill, is proving to be a potent source of speed and stamina on both sides of the sexual divide.