It’s hard to believe it’s already time for the first classic of the year. I’ve barely just stopped looking back at Cheltenham and now The Guineas is just a day away.
I always think of this weekend as the beginning of summer and it does generally help to start piquing my interest in the flat, as it’s the first weekend of real quality on the flat and I’ve usually forced myself to come to terms with the fact that the jumps season is properly over.
As I’ve either been focusing on what was left of the jumps season or dwelling on the fact that it’s a good five or six months until we’re back in the swing of things over fences, I’ve not actually had a proper look at the fields for the 1000 and 2000 Guineas until now, so I’m hoping looking at things fresh will pay off.
We’ll look at things chronologically starting with The 2000 Guineas. It’s the smallest field I can ever recall with just ten confirmed for Saturday, which is somewhat surprising as you generally get a few lining-up for smaller owners or stables in the hope they can outrun their odds. Despite being a small field it is certainly a select field featuring lots of quality.
The most logical place to start is with the short priced favourite, Churchill who is currently around the 11/8 mark. After defeat on debut, when not pushed particularly hard, he went on to win a string of top class races; never really blowing away a field but impressive all the same. He was a very mature two-year-old and the danger could be that he was just well ahead of the rest, but reports have suggested he has matured further and being by Galileo it would be a surprise if he hasn’t trained on. Many had their fingers burnt last year by the Aiden O’Brien favourite, with Air Force Blue showing little as a three year old, and there is the fear that it could happen again. However, Churchill is a worthy favourite and is the clear pick on previous form; we can only go on that and what happened last year will have absolutely no influence here.
Lancaster Bomber was a good second to Churchill in the Dewhurst last year, with that form looking incredibly strong now and showing that he is capable of acting on the course. He has the benefit of a run this season, so we know he has trained on to a degree, and he will appreciate the likely fast ground. As a likely pace-setter for the favourite we know the race will be run at a good pace and I could easily see him running others out of it from the front, just as he did in the Dewhurst. The final O’Brien contender, Spirit of Valor, will need to show massive improvement to figure but pedigree suggests he will be better on fast ground so that isn’t completely out of the question.
The current second favourite is Al Wukair and the fact his trainer sends him here must be a big positive in itself, with Andre Fabre not being in the habit of sending over no-hopers. He has won all three of his starts, beating the best French two year old on his first start this year, and connections think a lot of him. It’s hard not to be impressed by his form but his style of racing could be his undoing here; with a habit of getting behind at the start and the likely fast pace here he could find himself left behind with too much ground to make up for victory.
Of the British contenders, Barney Roy is shortest in the betting and currently vying for second favouritism. He was a good winner in the Greenham last time out, Richard Hannon will have him fully prepared for this challenge and with just two starts to his name there is still obvious room for improvement. He’ll be a contender in the big Group One’s over a mile this year but just wonder if he’ll need a bit more time to be seen at his best.
There are two potential contenders to give Frankel a classic winner with his first crop and although the Frankel buzz is verging on the overkill it would make for a great story. Eminent looks the most likely of the Frankel’s to have a chance here; he has won impressively on both of his starts and has course form, so we know the dip won’t be an issue, I just feel this might come a bit early for him and we’ll see him at his best over further and once he has grown into himself a little more. Dream Castle has shown solid enough form and looked like he was going to win the Greenham before Barney Roy cut him down; he looks a very nice prospect but he only made his debut a month ago and this is surely going to come too soon for one of his experience.
Of the remainder of the field, it’s hard to see any being good enough to get involved. Larchmont Lad was supported enough in the Craven and looked to be racing on the wrong side so it’s not beyond reason that he could hit the frame, whilst Law And Order and Top Score have race fitness on their side but would have to improve massively to figure.
If he has trained on, and as a Galileo that is highly likely, CHURCHILL will be tough to beat here. I don’t expect the lack of a run to have much impact as I don’t see him as a Derby horse, so this will be the main target for him and O’Brien has got enough colts to win this without a run for it not be an issue. His form is by far and away the best on offer and he could just be too good for this field, though I don’t expect him to win too flashily. I expect the price to drift slightly on Saturday morning, so get on early for a bit of value.
For place purposes I could easily see Lancaster Bomber putting the field under pressure from the front and holding on for a place. He’ll like the quick ground and represents some potential value at a best price of 33/1, after all how many times have we seen Aiden O’Brien bag the forecast in big races like this? Eminent can also go close to securing a dream start for the first Frankel crop in the classics.
The fillies’ classic looks a little more like the usual with fourteen contenders due to line-up, but it’s debatable whether it has quite the same depth of quality as the colts’ equivalent. Although there are still some undoubtedly classy fillies’ taking part.
Aiden O’Brien is unsurprisingly responsible for some of the leading contenders here, with Rhododendron the current favourite with bookies. She comes into this as the highest rated filly and off the back of her impressive win in the Fillies’ Mile over course and distance on quick ground last year, so you can see why she is the favourite. Questions have been raised around the O’Brien fillies’ typically needing a run, so coming here fresh could cost her, but reports have said he has tweaked his approach in recent years and he won with Minding first time out last year, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
The first time out argument cannot be used in the case of O’Brien’s other two contenders Hydrangea and Winter. Hydrangea had some solid form last season, finishing runner-up in a series of top class races and showed she has trained-on when winning the trial at Leopardstown last month. Winter finished a good second in that trial on debut for O’Brien, having ran for David Wachman last year. Her two year old form was nothing to write home about but she looked to have improved markedly from two to three and there is surely further to come, whilst the steady flow of money that has seen her price tumble cannot be ignored.
If the colts do not succeed, Frankel could still have the chance of siring a first classic winner in Fair Eva. She was incredibly impressive on her first two starts before her form tailed off slightly when beaten twice at odds-on. I just wonder if she needed a longer trip as she matured through her juvenile year, so the step-up in trip could suit and the likely quick ground will be to her liking giving her a real chance here. Queen Kindly also runs for Frankel and although she showed some good form last year the pedigree suggests she will be all about speed and could be a force back in trip in races like The Commonwealth Cup.
John Gosden has started the year in exceptional form and has Daban towards the head of the market here. We only saw her in an all-weather maiden last year but she couldn’t have been much more impressive in winning the Nell Gwyn last time out. It’s hard to say how good she could be on what we’ve seen, but with her pedigree I wonder if seven furlongs might just be her best trip.
Talaayeb is the most unexposed in the race having only run the once when winning a maiden at Newmarket last year. She won that race impressively and Owen Burrows likes her a lot, but the fillies’ she beat in that maiden haven’t done much for the form and I think she’ll improve for the experience.
Joseph O’Brien is bidding to follow-up his classic wins as a jockey and has his first runner as a trainer with Intricately. She’d shown bits of form last year before winning the Grade One Moyglare, beating Rhododendron and Hydrangea in the process, and putting in a promising enough return run last time when perhaps not really pushed. A repeat of her Irish form from last year would give her a chance.
Of the remainder of the field, Poet’s Vanity has course form and will like the going so could run a big race, whilst Unforgettable Filly, Urban Fox and Kilmah all have form behind the main protagonists so would have to improve but have shown a good level of talent previously. It’s hard to see the rest of the line-up figuring.
This is a really tough field to figure out. It must be taken as a big positive that Ryan Moore has been declared to ride Rhododendron as he would have had the choice of the other O’Brien contenders and there has been plenty of buzz around those. She will have a great chance and is the stand out filly on form but I feel the 7/4 on offer might just be a bit short. Hydrangea and Winter also have big chances, with Winter having the bigger potential to improve and possibly the one to watch.
There are others with clear claims and I could talk up the chance of more than half the field, but I’m going to plump for INTRICATELY as the selection. She is definitely more of an each way selection and the recent form of the Joseph O’Brien stable is a slight concern. However, her form last year is up there with others and her performance in the Guineas trial showed she has trained on. At 16/1 she might just offer a bit of value ahead of less proven rivals who are shorter in the betting.