It's Guineas weekend at Newmarket, dear reader, and that means top quality three-year-old could-be-anythings taking each other on for fat juicy prize money. More importantly for their owners, there's the prospect of a tilt at the Derby to follow and perhaps a lucrative breeding campaign subsequently.
But that's all in the future. First things first...
Saturday sees the chaps go to war, and it looks something of a two horse race. In the blue corner, we have the unbeaten-in-six, Dawn Approach. Formerly owned as well as trained by Jim Bolger - a man who is no stranger to Guineas glory - he is now only trained by the wily Irishman, with ownership passing to Godolphin.
That in itself marks what could be argued is a superb piece of timing on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed, as this 'guest trainer' is untarnished by the shadow of suspicion and throng of whispers associated with Momo's salaried trainers just now.
In the red (ish epaulets) corner is Toronado, unbeaten in four himself, and perhaps less well known to punters and public. Richard Hannon's High Chapparal colt is bred for a Derby, but has the speed for a July Cup. He promises to be some horse but, to date, he's never tested himself in Group 1 company.
Because Toronado has led in three of his four runs, there is a suspicion that he needs to lead. This is not true, according to his helmsman, Richard Hughes, who contends it is more the fact that nothing in his races was capable of leading him previously. Indeed, Hughes would prefer a tow into the race, and might just get that from Dawn Approach's team mate, Leitir Mor.
Let's look more closely at the form of the two obvious contenders...
Dawn Approach is bred for this job. A son of Guineas second (beaten a nose), New Approach, out of a mare whose optimum trip was just shy of a mile, he's progressed from winning a five furlong sprint on his juvenile debut, up through Listed company; then winning a big field Coventry Stakes over six furlongs at Royal Ascot; and claiming two Group 1's when moving up to seven-eighths of a mile, first in the National Stakes at the Curragh, and finally in the Dewhurst Stakes on Newmarket's roll-y Rowley Mile.
Much has been made of the Rowley Mile in recent times, with the 'dip' - a micro-valley just under two furlongs from home, purported to unbalance many a horse - being the primary focus. But Hughes contends that it is not so much the dip as the incessant ridging on the Rowley piste which is causing problems for the runners. This, he asserts, is as a consequence of excessive watering, and he went as far as to say that Newmarket's early and late season course was akin to Yarmouth, which is famously blighted with ridges and undulations.
If he's right about that, then will we see notable absentees from late season juvenile Group races? Probably not, as the money/kudos of an ante-post Guineas favourite is too great, but it's an interesting observation.
In any case, both Toronado and Dawn Approach have spun over the course, and both have won with daylight in hand. Some commentators have questioned the length of time it took Dawn Approach to overcome Leitir Mor in the Dewhurst, citing the fact that he got unbalanced. He won by more than two lengths despite that, testament to how good he is.
The third from that race, George Vancouver, went on to win the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf, an altogether different test, but a Grade 1 test just the same. That at least adds some ballast to the merit of the form, form which is unlikely to be franked by a couple of the other yokes in behind that day.
Again, Dawn Approach looks sure to be suited by the extra furlong, and it's impossible not to love his winning temperament. He looked beaten at Royal Ascot after veering under pressure, but battled on tenaciously to see off Toronado's under-study, Olympic Glory. He - briefly - looked in trouble in the Dewhurst, but picked up and went away.
Given the likelihood of his appreciating the extra furlong, he seems sure to run his race, with Jim Bolger's nags hitting the turf running this season, as they do pretty much every season.
Toronado on the other hand is harder to assess. He's more about potential than proven tip top form. His potential was shrieked across Newmarket Heath a fortnight or so ago, when he walloped Havana Gold by four lengths in the Craven Stakes. That it was a four runner race was hardly his fault: indeed, it may be a feather in his cap that he was so easily able to fend off very decent stayers (of the mile trip, at least) with such devastating aplomb, despite having to make it.
Hughes reported that James Doyle, aboard third-placed Dundonnell in the Craven, alleged he simply couldn't get near the winner from half way. Hughes further reports that Toronado has improved enormously in the last six weeks, from being "no Canford Cliffs" to "an aeroplane" just before the Craven.
Granted at least a bit more to come since then, and he must be in the shake up. The Craven is run over a mile, as is the Guineas of course, so there's no stamina reservation. Far from it, with the Derby looking like the next target for both he and Dawn Approach, irrespective of the result here.
Given that BetVictor are offering to double your winnings - up to a stake of £200 - if your pick wins both the Guineas and Derby, that's well worth considering. All the more so, given that Camelot achieved that feat last year; Sea The Stars did it in 2009; and Dawn Approach's daddy, New Approach, was just a neck away from doing it in 2008!
Here's the link to BetVictor's site, if that's of interest to you.
Back to Toronado. He's done all he's been asked on the track, and he's been backed as though he cannot lose this last week. I had a little bit on when Hughes was so adamant on Tuesday evening, and I'd rarely be one for following a jockey's tip.
But the thing is that the Guineas is a race where we have to listen, because so much is about potential and the 'now' horse. Form in the book can often be caught and passed with a winter's growth on those respective backs. And some horses are the finished article at two. Toronado is clearly improving. Which is not to say that Dawn Approach hasn't also improved, nor that some other hitherto unconsidered beast has the measure of the pair of them.
Let's - at least, cursorily - consider the chances of the hitherto unconsidered beasts. A pair of O'Brien hosses, and a northern raider, make up the next trio in the wagering. The O'Brien pair are Cristoforo Colombo (CC hereafter), and Mars (Mars hereafter). The former has more in the book: he was third in Dawn Approach's Coventry, and went on to fail to score on three further starts.
It's interesting that he comes here to race over a mile, having previously not been seen in public over further than six furlongs. It is even more interesting that Joseph O'Brien chooses CC over Mars. What planet is he on?! It feels to me like something of an academic selection, with CC having at least some form of merit at top class.
Mars, for his part, could do no more than win a Dundalk maiden by almost five lengths from a horse called The Ferryman. That one was beaten almost ten lengths by Dawn Approach and, while such strict interpretations are always dangerous, especially with a surface shift and a class chasm between the two contests, it's the only substance we have in relation to the merit of Mars.
He was a big talking horse prior to his win that day, and presumably they feel he's very good - after all, he's running in the 2000 Guineas! - but he's not for me, though he's another which might be of interest to those considering a tilt at the BetVictor bonus cash for a Guineas/Derby double. After all, he's a son of Galileo out of a middle distance mare. And, perhaps more pertinently, he's already joint favourite for the Derby..!
So, if you reckon he has a chance in the Guineas, you could have up to £200 on at 11/1 with Victor, and return as much as £4,400 in real and bonus cash. Obviously, you could just have a fiver, or two quid even, or swerve him altogether. But he's probably the one with the most obvious Derby chance.
Garswood won't win a Derby. And I doubt very much he'll win a Guineas, despite reportedly being the best Richard Fahey's trained (and he's trained a lot. Heck, even this season, he's trained a lot!). No, I'd see this fellow ending up contesting Group 1 sprints, and probably winning at least one this term. Step back in trip, not up.
George Vancouver won't win a Derby either. But he might win a Guineas. He was impressive at Santa Anita and, while he was beaten fair and square by Dawn Approach here last term, the verdict was only three and a half lengths. Those lengths have been converted into an odds disparity of almost fifteen points, with Dawn Approach around the 6/4 mark and Georgie boy at 16/1. That's surely too big, despite Ballydoyle jockey bookings implying he's third choice.
After all, GV has done more than either CC or Mars on the track to date. If there is any value against the front two, and I'm not certain there is, then it's probably him.
One at any price you like is the aforementioned Leitir Mor. He's not going to win - not unless something apocalyptic happens - but he'll probably stay, and he's got Group 1 silver on this very strip. The race could be run to suit, with him getting an easy-ish lead and, with the non-stayers wilting, it might be a question of how many proper milers go by him. Some will, but I'd not be sure that plenty will. 66/1 is worth a shekel each way.
Most likely winner: Toronado
Obvious Danger: Dawn Approach
Best each way: George Vancouver
Huge priced bomb with a place squeak: Leitir Mor
I previewed the 1000 Guineas back on 17th April, and very little has happened since to make me change my tune.
What A Name is the one for me, and I think there might be a chance of Sky Lantern reversing form with Hot Snap, given the latter was clearly straighter on the day of their Nell Gwyn trial.
Magical Dream is a big priced outsider worth considering if she takes her chance.
Now then, how about a tipping competition? Two days, fourteen races, winner takes all. 'All' being a signed copy of Richard Hughes' biography, A Weight Off My Mind.
To enter, just click here and leave a comment with your name and your selections for each day. Simple as that. 🙂
And finally, did you notice something different on the blog today? Yes? Well done! No? Look harder!! Yes, there's a small but quite fun change to the banner at the very top, with a currently unnamed horse and rider combo adorning the geegeez.co.uk strip. We'll maybe run another competition soon to name the jock!
For now though, who do you think will win this weekend? Leave a comment and let us know who - and, of course, why!
And tell me if you like the little jockey/horses dude. 🙂