'Tortoise' Kameko downs Pinatubo to take English 2000 Guineas


London (AFP)

Kameko, whose name means "child of tortoise" in Japanese, was anything but slow on Saturday as he stormed home to win the opening British horse racing classic of the season in the English 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.

Kameko, named by Qatari owner Sheikh Fahad al-Thani's wife Melissa, picked up late under champion jockey Oisin Murphy to pass Frankie Dettori on the well-backed Aidan O'Brien runner Wichita to give the jockey and trainer Andrew Balding their first win in the race.

Odds-on favourite Pinatubo had every chance but his dominance of his rivals from last year -- which earned him the rating as best two-year-old for over two decades -- had not carried over and he finished a well-beaten third.

"The first half (of the race) went to plan... Don't know what Oisin was doing second half, but delighted with the end result," said Balding.

Murphy let out a roar on crossing the line which carried a long way towards the empty stands.

The lack of spectators was one of the regulations imposed for the return of British racing earlier this week after being suspended on March 17 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"I won't remember when I look back that there was no crowd," said Murphy.

"I will recall that Kameko gave me my first British classic victory."

The 24-year-old Irishman said he had been tempted to ignore the social-distancing regulations when he returned to the winners' enclosure.

"I wanted to pick him up (Balding) and swing him round my shoulders," said Murphy.

"But firstly, I am not strong enough, and secondly, there would have been some bad press in the morning."

- 'My heart sank' -

Balding -- whose father Ian narrowly failed to win the race with Mill Reef in 1971 -- also said he was not bothered by winning behind closed doors.

"Yes it was weird but frankly the elation I felt, there could have been 500,000 people here and I would not have noticed," said Balding.

A statue of Mill Reef, who later won the Derby and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, stands at the stables and Balding was delighted to have at last put the family name on the winners' roll for the mile classic.

"My poor old dad will have forgotten the horse won this evening," said Balding.

"One of his regrets was never winning the Guineas. It is good to have one on the family CV."

Kameko is now 3/1 for the Derby.

Saturday would have been Derby day until the rescheduling following the lockdown.

Dettori, according to Murphy, was the only other person to let out a scream after crossing the line and the Italian was left frustrated, having thought he had the race in the bag.

"I thought I was going to win after shaking off Pinatubo," said Dettori. "However, then I noticed this shadow coming alongside me and my heart sank."

Pinatubo's jockey William Buick had no excuses.

"I have no complaints," he said. "We were just beaten by two better horses."