05/21/2003 11:00PM

Irish Guineas up for grabs

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Expectation of soft ground at The Curragh on Saturday has turned the $421,000 Irish 2000 Guineas into a wide-open 16-runner affair.

Trainer Aidan O'Brien has withdrawn his antepost favorite, Catcher in the Rye, as well as the long-sidelined Statue of Liberty because of the ground. Among the five he will saddle in the classic Group 1 mile are Tomahawk, eighth in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, but one who has done his best running on soft ground.

A son of Seattle Slew, Tomahawk won a listed race at The Curragh in March and was an unlucky fourth in the Prix de Fontainebleau in April, both on yielding surfaces. With Michael Kinane aboard, Tomahawk may be just good enough to sneak home, although he will be breaking from a rather unfavorable draw on the rail.

Zafeen is the horse to beat. A fast-closing second to Refuse to Bend in the English 2000 Guineas, Zafeen is in peak form for trainer Mick Channon but is at his best on good to firm ground. France, fourth in the French 2000 Guineas for O'Brien, won the Group 3 Tetrarch Stakes on yielding ground.

Tout Seul (fourth in the English Guineas), Indian Haven, Saturn, and Evolving Tactics are four others who would prefer it firm, but Dolmur, a recent allowance winner at Gowran Park on soft ground, offers some value at 33-1.