Ballydoyle, Godolphin and Al Shaqab Racing, carved up the mile division last season, thanks to outstanding three-year-olds Galileo Gold, Ribchester and The Gurkha.
The trio famously clashed in a thrilling Sussex Stakes at Goodwood, with French Guineas winner, The Gurkha, getting the better of English Guineas winner Galileo Gold, with QEII runner-up Ribchester, a fast finishing third. The same three powerhouses provide the leading contenders for tomorrow’s opening Classic, with Aidan O’Brien’s Churchill set to be sent off a short-priced favourite.
Last year’s leading juvenile has five victories from six starts, and was an impressive winner of the Dewhurst in October, when defeating stable-companion Lancaster Bomber and Godolphin’s Blue Point. Rivet was comfortably beaten in fifth, and that form was franked in the Craven recently. Churchill was doing his best work at the end of the Dewhurst, which suggests that this step-up to a mile should suit, despite the dam being a speedster. He looks a worthy favourite, though we are about to find out if he has trained-on from two to three.
That element of doubt is not there with Godolphin’s Barney Roy. He’s already shown his ability at three, with a fine win in the Greenham Stakes at Newbury. He looked a little outpaced by stable-mate Dream Castle, before galloping powerfully past his rival inside the final furlong. He’s a long-striding imposing sort, and there’s a slight concern as to how he’ll cope with the dip at Newmarket. He’s very inexperienced, with just two career starts, and I worry that this will prove an issue. He looks a colt with huge potential, but is he ready for this?
Al Shaqab’s challenger Al Wukair, arrives having beaten the Grand Criterium winner, National Defense, at Maisons Laffitte in April. That looks strong French form, and trainer Andre Fabre has twice been successful in the 2000 Guineas, though his last victory came in 1995. He came close in 2015, when Territories chased home Gleneagles, and I’d be surprised if this fella didn’t go close.
There’s understandably been plenty of interest in Frankel progeny, and Eminent will be flying the flag tomorrow. Another with just two runs under his belt, he needed every yard of the mile trip to impress in the Craven Stakes a few weeks back. He defeated Rivet, which is undoubtedly solid form, and trainer Martyn Meade is adamant that his powerfully built colt will improve plenty for the run. He'll be finishing the race to great effect, and looks to have a great chance.
Godolphin have their own Frankel in the field, with Greenham runner-up Dream Castle not to be overlooked. Beaten, though far from disgraced by Barney Roy, he travelled like the best horse for much of the race, and under a more patient ride may prove an interesting contender.
The each-way play in the race may prove to be O’Brien’s second-string, Lancaster Bomber. The likely fast ground at Newmarket is sure to suit the son of War Front, and I was impressed by how he battled on in last autumn’s Dewhurst. He looked a huge two-year-old, and it’s possible that others will have caught up physically during the winter. Nevertheless, his odds of 33/1 are tempting, and he showed his well-being with a decent performance in Dubai in March.
Hype often surrounds a Ballydoyle player as the season begins, but his pedigree suggests that Churchill could prove the ‘real deal’, and go on to become an outstanding miler. He’s a predictable selection, but I think he’s the likely winner. Barney Roy could prove the main danger, but I’ll be having a few quid on O’Brien’s Lancaster Bomber to sneak into a place for each-way punters. Best of luck to those having a punt.