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European Free Handicap: Russian Valour out to bolster Johnston's Guineas hand.

Byline: Jon Lees

RUSSIAN VALOUR, a colt who bore the stamp of a sprinter rather than a miler last season, bids to confound the doubters and secure the Mark Johnston stable at least one place in the 2,000 Guineas today.

One of an initial team of four his trainer was aiming at the season's first Classic, from which Lucky Story has been ruled out and Pearl Of Love has received treatment for a foot problem, the Royal Ascot winner will be the first to have his credentials tested on the racecourse.

Russian Valour is one of four Guineas entrants who line up in the 11-runner Victor Chandler Free Handicap, a prize won a year ago by eventual Irish 2,000 Guineas hero Indian Haven.

The Fasliyev colt won three of his five starts last season, all at five furlongs, but didn't run again after beating the highly regarded Kheleyf in the Norfolk Stakes.

Johnston said: "We have doubts about the trip. We think he's ready so we might as well try to kill two birds with one stone and put him to the test over a shorter trip than a mile.

"I have a very open mind. Of all my horses he's probably the most obvious sprinter, but I'm not predicting whether he will stay the trip or not. It's almost standard practice to try a mile with top-class three-year-old sprinters nowadays."

Johnston, who will test Mister Monet in the Feilden Stakes at Newmarket on Thursday but also runs Parkview Love against Russian Valour, added: "I'll know more about my Guineas challenge as we get nearer the race.

"Somebody told me Parkview Love was out of his depth, but I think he's

fairly handicapped. He did disappoint at Lingfield last time and he'll have to put that run behind him."

The race's other Classic entrants are Carrizo Creek, Azarole and Venables, the first of whom had excited Kieren Fallon last year when winning the Richmond Stakes at Goodwood, before getting beaten by Whipper in the Prix Morny.

Trainer Brian Meehan said: "He couldn't handle soft ground at Deauville, but up to then he had done nothing but improve. He's been working very nicely."

Azarole, a half-brother to Macadamia, ran encouragingly when fourth behind Lucky Story and Milk It Mick on his

final two starts last year.

Trainer James Fanshawe said: "Most of mine have been needing their first run and we have not pushed too many buttons, but the horse certainly looks well."

nLatest 2,000 Guineas betting, page 6


Russian Valour: won the Norfolk at Royal Ascot over the minimum trip last season but steps up to seven furlongs today
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Apr 14, 2004
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