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International Classifications: Minardi in pole position for `hell of a Classic year'.

HANDICAPPERS are predicting "a hell of a year" for the Classic generation in 2001 after Minardi became Aidan O'Brien's second successive juvenile champion following Fasliyev, writes Bruce Jackson.

The rating will cause some debate among handicappers including the Racing Post's Postmark-who rated Guineas favourite Nayef as the top two-year-old on the basis of his impressive victory in a Listed race at Ascot in October, despite Minardi scoring in Group 1 company in the Middle Park Stakes.

BHB juvenile handicapper Matthew Tester is forecasting a vintage season. He said: "It was a very solid year for two-year-olds with Okawango, Tobougg and Nayef all unbeaten.

"I believe Nayef's rating is the highest ever given for a two-year-old that hasn't run in Group company. It's going to be a hell of a year and I can't wait to see what happens."

Minardi is one of 13 horses from Ballydoyle rated above 110, and is among the yard's list of 21 names nominated for the Kentucky Derby, though

connections are still some way from discussing running plans.

O'Brien said yesterday that a crack at Churchill Downs was being seriously considered with some members of his team, but added: "Obviously to enter the horses now is a lot less than it will cost later on.

"They are all cantering at the moment. Closer to the time we will see what we have. We would have to be happy they were forward enough before we made any decision."

Nayef is ranked alongside Bad As I Wanna Be, whose rating for his wide-margin Prix Morny win caused handicappers particular difficulty.

Tester added: "There wasn't a race which caused more scratching of heads than that, and there is a certain degree of disquiet about his rating. It's a holding figure."

Marcus Tregoning, Nayef's trainer, issued an upbeat

bulletin on his colt's progress.

He said: "I am very happy with him. Everything has gone very well-he looks particularly well in his coat.

"With the two all-weather gallops put in by Sheikh Hamdan, he hasn't missed a day's cantering, and he looks as if he has done well in the winter.

"He was always going to be an older horse because of his build. He has a big frame to fill.

"He has filled out quite a bit and is more mature. He is all there, and didn't look weak at Ascot.

"Having known the rest of the family, I think it will come together through the summer, with him physically developing and improving."

Tregoning feels Nayef's debut win at Newbury, when he defeated subsequent Racing Post Trophy runner-up Tamburlaine, is his strongest form, judged on the high regard in which the Richard Hannon stable hold that colt.

Nayef's Ascot victory, in the Listed event also won by his illustrious half-brother Nashwan, was boosted by third-placed Count Dubois landing a Group 1 success in Italy.

Tregoning was with Dick Hern at Kingwood House Stables when Nashwan, having pursued a similar path to Nayef with Newbury and Ascot wins as a two-year-old, went on to be champion three-year-old after winning the Guineas and Derby in 1989.

Tregoning added: "Nayef hasn't got the great stride that Nashwan had, but is a lovely horse to watch.

"He is well balanced, which is one of his greatest attributes, and there is no worry about the weather as we

have found that he goes on any ground."

nBeing rated champion two-year-old is no guarantee that Minardi will take a leading role in the Classics.

Of the last 19 horses to top the juvenile ranks, no fewer than 11 failed to win a Group 1 race at three.

Notable flops include 1991 champion Arazi, whose mark of 130 is the joint-highest

rating for a two-year-old since 1978, who scored only in lesser company the following year.

But six of the last 19 ratings-toppers did go on to Classic success.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jan 18, 2001
Words:643
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