05/05/2003 11:00PM

Raise a pint to classic victors


DUBLIN - In Irish racing circles, Dermot Weld is held in high esteem, admired for both his training skills and his decency, so the pints of beer flowed freely in Dublin when his colt Refuse to Bend won the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket last Saturday, a victory especially to be savored because Weld snatched it from the English on their home ground.

The 2000 Guineas, initially run in 1809, is the first classic of the European flat season. It is a mile race for 3-year-old colts with a winner's purse of $297,000, and it is contested on the famous Rowley Mile course, where there are no turns and the turf takes a few dicey dips that can throw horses off stride and ruin their chances.

As usual, Aidan O'Brien entered the Guineas with a short-priced favorite in hand. But his barn has been out of form this spring, and Hold That Tiger, sent off at 4-1, proved less than ferocious and finished 17th in the 20-horse field. His stablemate Tomahawk seemed distracted, and washed out in the paddock. The mighty Godolphin team fared no better. Lateen Sails, its main hope, came in last despite the efforts of jockey Frankie Dettori.

Refuse to Bend, by Sadler's Wells, is a half-brother to Media Puzzle, who won Australia's Melbourne Cup for Weld in 2002. Refuse to Bend's breeding suggested that a mile might be too sharp for him, and he had been pointed toward the 1 1/2-mile Epsom Derby in June. But he had been working so well Weld decided to roll the dice. Weld got lucky, too, when some rain fell at Newmarket and softened the turf, making the conditions ideal for his colt.

The race didn't measure up to the great ones. There wasn't any early pace, and a number of riders had traffic problems. Having drawn an outside post, Refuse to Bend managed to stay out of trouble. He lived up to his reputation as a lazy horse, never kicking into gear until Pat Smullen, his jockey, gave him several sharp cracks with the whip.

The colt's cruise through the stretch looked impressive, but only three lengths actually separated the first eight horses to cross the wire. Still, the performance was strong enough to drop Refuse to Bend's Derby odds to 3-1, and he enjoyed a victory parade before the crowd, while an unlikely anthem - the theme music from the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" - played over the sound system.

If the 2000 Guineas was a rough race, the 1000 Guineas for 3-year-old fillies was even messier. Originally run in 1814, it topped the Newmarket card on Sunday, when women were obliged to turn up in their millinery finery, creating a fantasia of hats in so many sizes, shapes, and colors it seemed a direct challenge to the ladies at Royal Ascot.

Six Perfections, the highly touted French filly ridden by jockey Thierry Thulliez, is named for the cardinal Buddhist virtues, but she didn't look very evolved as she went to post for the 1000 Guineas as the 8-5 favorite. She was blindfolded and acted finicky. Stuck in the 1 hole, she was shuffled to the rear of the pack at the break, while Russian Rhythm, the eventual winner, nearly "fell down on her head" when the gate opened, according to Kieren Fallon, her rider, who counted himself lucky to stay in the saddle.

Fallon, currently top gun on the UK circuit, kept to the inside and cleverly threaded his way through the field, but Six Perfections had a terrible trip. She was dead last at the two-furlong marker and clipped the hills of Spinola, the filly in front of her.

Thulliez, riding at Newmarket for the first time, seemed to panic and took Six Perfections very wide, where she showed her class by closing with terrific speed and almost catching the winner at the wire.

Fans intelligent enough not to listen to Sir Michael Stoute, who trains Russian Rhythm, collected a handsome payday at 12-1. Stoute had been badmouthing the filly for weeks, carrying on about her poor works and how far behind schedule she was, even talking about skipping the race. He appeared to be honestly amazed at the outcome, although it is good to remember that canny trainers can often produce "honest amazement" on demand.

Among the disappointed folks around were the owners of Soviet Song, who finished fourth. About 10,000 people have a piece of her as members of the Elite Racing Club. They contribute an annual fee to buy a tiny share in several horses and are rewarded with a dividend every 12 months or so depending - as the club's advert puts it - on "how lucky we are."

Though the Newmarket meeting provided some unexpected results, the weekend's weirdest episode occurred at Haydock Park, outside Liverpool. Man O'Mystery, entered in a Grade 3 hurdle for a substantial purse, was 10-1 on the morning line, but a flurry of unwarranted optimism turned him into the 9-2 favorite by post time in the afternoon. Problem was, the gelding didn't want to run. When the starter released the field, Man O'Mystery refused to budge a muscle and stood there like a mule, costing his grumbling backers a small fortune.