This weekend sees the 204th running of the QIPCO 2000 Guineas, and it's time for Geegeez to offer up our 2000 Guineas Preview and 2000 Guineas Tips.
As ever, I'll attempt to combine trends and form, and maybe even chuck in a bit of breeding for good measure, in a bid to bag the winner.
So let's get cracking...
2000 Guineas Trends
Let's first look through the trends for meaningful profile pointers in past winners of the race. I'll consider the last fifteen renewals, going back as far as the 1997 iteration, won by Sir Michael Stoute's Entrepreneur.
This is a Classic race over a mile, and is the first serious pot for the very best horses of the three-year-old crop to stake a claim for glory. As such, it makes sense that it attracts the very best horses.
No surprise at all then that all of the last fifteen winners finished in the first three last time out, and twelve of them won last time out. The three who didn't - Henrythenavigator, Cockney Rebel and King's Best - all placed in a Group race on their last start. Indeed, the first two named were placed in a Group 2, and I'm inclined to exclude any runner that did not either win last time, or at least place in Group 1 or 2 company last time.
This single factor counts against no less then ten of the eighteen declared runners, including both Born To Sea and Abtaal, the joint second favourites.
The only horse beaten in his three year old career prior to winning the 2000 Guineas since Zafonic in 1993, was Kings Best, in 2000. Both were beaten half a length or less, so I might be prepared to allow a horse narrowly beaten on seasonal debut back in. That would nudge the door ajar for Abtaal.
No winner had raced more than five times in their career before scoring 2000 Guineas glory. 57 have tried. Caspar Netschar has had eleven races, and surely won't stay a mile. Coupe De Ville has had seven starts and was fair thumped last time; French Fifteen has had eight starts already, though only beaten once since debut (by Abtaal); Power has had six starts; Red Duke seven; Redact six; Saigon seven; Talwar eight; Trumpet Major nine.
If that five run cut off seems somewhat arbitrary (which it may actually be), then consider the place statistics. Only seven of those 57 exposed horses made the frame, which is just 12.28%. This compares unfavourably with the 17.84% of those raced five times or less who made the frame (38 of 213). Side with less exposed horses is the clear percentage play.
What about race fitness, and the benefit of a run this season?
Well, Frankel came out and won the 2000 Guineas by a street last year, having had a previous run (and win) in the Greenham Stakes. In 2010, Makfi won the Group 3 Prix Djebel before taking 2000 Guineas glory. (That same race saw French Fifteen, Abtaal and Hermival run 1-2-3 this year).
And then, between 2001 and 2009, only Refuse To Bend had a prep run that season before winning the Guineas. He won the Leopardstown Trial, but the other eight winners of the 2000 Guineas were making their first start of the season.
What does this mean? Good question, and I can't be absolute except to say that the little '-' may be immaterial and fitness can generally be taken on trust, as long as ability is there.
Interestingly, perhaps, only three of the last ten runnings have been won by the home team. Ireland has claimed six, and France one. Given the percentage of runners per nation, I'm tempted to lean heavily overseas when looking for the winner.
Now what about the merit of the recognised two year old trials, and especially the Racing Post Trophy?
Well, if you're heavily involved in Camelot at a short price, look away now..! It is forty years since a Racing Post Trophy winner won the 2000 Guineas the following season, and that's not a stat I like when considering 5/4 about last year's winner of the Racing Post Trophy.
Further speed concerns are raised when you consider that since 2001, three Racing Post Trophy winners have gone on to win the Derby (High Chapparal, Motivator and Authorized), and one, Brian Boru, has gone on to win the St Leger!!!
A significant body of evidence points squarely towards Camelot being more of a middle distance horse, not least of which is his breeding. more of that in a second.
For those of you who are value hunters, you may also like to know that well beaten horses from the Racing Post Trophy have been known to run into the places in the 2000 Guineas at monster prices.
Dubawi Gold finished 9th in the RPT, and was then second in the Guineas last year at 33/1. Norse Dancer was only 7th in the RPT, but bagged third in the 2000 Guineas, at no less than 100/1 (!) in 2003. And Redback was 3rd in both races, his Guineas bronze coming at 25/1, in 2002.
Before you read the rest of this post, a quick question...
2000 Guineas Form
OK, so what of the form coming into the race? As you might expect from such an early season puzzle, with many horses unraced this year, there are plenty of elements which need to be projected and/or taken on trust.
This is not a place I like to invest too much folding as a consequence. With that caveat in place, let's take a look at the main form contenders.
The strong favourite is Camelot, from the Aidan O'Brien stable. Facile winner of a slow run Racing Post Trophy, beating four rivals, he'd previously beaten four rivals on his only other start.
That debut run was another easy success, where he beat a horse called All Approved. All Approved now has an official rating of 76, off which he cannot win.
The second horse in the Racing Post Trophy, Zip Top, was beaten the same distance by a horse called Crius on his previous start, in a Group 3. Crius has since been beaten five lengths by Trumpet Major.
In other words, if you bet Camelot at short odds on the basis of the visual impression of two small field wins against questionable form yardsticks, you'll get what you deserve.
Now, please understand, Camelot could win the 2000 Guineas. I'm not saying he can't. I'm simply highlighting that there must be half a dozen horses in the field with a more robust form claim, notwithstanding their lesser upside potential.
Also, bear in mind this statistic, for which I'm indebted to Kevin Blake of the Irish Field. Kevin writes,
Even more significantly, any son of Montjeu has an extremely damning statistic to overcome in the 2000 Guineas. Montjeu has sired over 150 horses that have been officially rated 100 or higher. Yet, of all those talented horses, not a single one of them has won a Group race at a mile or shorter as a three-year-old or older in Europe. Indeed, just a handful of them have won at Listed level within that criteria, with one of those being, interestingly enough, Hurricane Fly. It is very rare to have a black-and-white statistic of such notability in the case of a well-established sire and the significance of such a stat shouldn’t be underplayed in the case of Camelot.
I'll be looking elsewhere for my wager. But where?
Next in the betting - at around the 9/1 mark - are Born To Sea, Abtaal, Trumpet Major, and Top Offer. Let's look at this quartet.
Born To Sea was born to be famous, as a half brother to the brilliant 2000 Guineas winner, Sea The Stars. Their mum, Urban Sea, is one of the great race and broodmares of all time, having borne Galileo, Sea The Stars, Black Sam Bellamy, My Typhoon (six time Group winner), and All Too Beautiful.
She herself was also the winner of seven races at Listed or higher grade, including the Arc! Incroyable, as they say in France.
Born To Sea was readily outpointed on his second - and final - juvenile start, and he's not been seen since. That day, Nephrite trumped him, but Nephrite has himself been well trumped in Listed company (though he may have needed the run, it's hardly Guineas-winning collateral form).
Abtaal is next in plenty of lists, and he was beaten a neck by the re-opposing French Fifteen last time out in the race Makfi won prior to winning here in 2010. Hermival was third, one and a half lengths behind FF and Abtaal.
Given that Abtaal actually stumbled when coming to make his challenge, and only just failed to uphold a three length win over French Fifteen he'd scored last year, this is probably a performance that can be marked up.
That the race was run on softish going, and Abtaal has won on 'very soft' before means conditions at Newmarket will hold no fears. This chap has plenty of pace, and the only slight doubt is around whether he can last home in a fast run mile, as this is sure to be.
Of the two others from the Prix Djebel, French Fifteen cannot be dismissed lightly. Since finishing last on his debut, he has only been beaten once - that three length loss over a mile at Longchamp behind Abtaal - in seven subsequent starts.
His wins include the Group 1 Criterium International, but I just can't help but feel that Abtaal will have his legs, and that he might be better suited to the mile and a quarter of the Prix de Jockey Club in due course.
Hermival wasn't beaten far on just his second start, and he represents the same trainer as Makfi, the brilliant Mikael Delzangles. The more I look at this chap, the more of a liking I have for him. Yes, I know he was soundly beaten last time. But that was over seven furlongs, and he was going best of all late in the race.
It's also the case that he probably has most improvement in him, and that - as a son of Dubawi - he may enjoy the soft going more than many. 22/1 is tempting, without being spectacular value.
Top Offer was mightily impressive on his sole start to date, a Newbury maiden. His action there suggested that faster ground would be ideal, as he seemed to skip off the good going. The second and third horses from there have since been beaten, and the fourth and fifth - although both have won - look capable if unexceptional (rated a downward-descending 99 and 85 respectively).
Trumpet Major is interesting. I think his easy win in the Craven last month is the strongest trial form this year, outside of France at least, and albeit that he probably has less improvement than many of his rivals. Nevertheless, it's hard not to like the course and distance success that day, when there was give in the ground and a headwind.
He was giving his rivals three pounds there, but more materially perhaps was that he seems to have the kind of action that implies soft ground will be right up his street. True, he did finish last of four on his only run on soft, but I'm sure that was much more to do with him running - and winning - just nine days beforehand. Certainly, it's hard to blame the ground for an eight and a half length form turnaround with Talwar, from a previous run on good to soft.
Power and Fencing are the next two in the market and, aside from Talwar at 40/1, it's difficult to make any sort of case for the remainder.
Power has yet to be outside the first two in five starts, including a win and two runners up finishes in Group 1's. Whilst he's more exposed than his stablemate, Camelot, he also brings a more reliable level of form to the table. However, there must be doubts about his ability to get the mile here, as he's looked all out at seven furlongs and has shown plenty of speed earlier in his career.
I can see him running a big race in the Group 1 sprints this summer, notwithstanding a certain Black Caviar who might get in the way there!
Fencing was third in the Racing Post Trophy as mentioned, and that bare form wouldn't give him a winning chance here. However, looking at the overall balance of his form - notably his win from Telwaar in a Listed race - he ought to run a nice race, without perhaps being good enough.
Talwar is a really interesting supplementary entry. It costs £40,000 to supplement a horse for this, which is the same amount a horse wins for finishing third here. Clearly, connections are hopeful of a podium finish.
His win in a Lingfield Listed race may not seem very good, until you consider that it was the race won by a certain Dubawi Gold last year, before that one ran closest to Frankel in the 2000 Guineas.
His form on soft ground is proven - he won an aforementioned Group 3 contest, beating Trumpet Major amongst others - and there's an argument to suggest he was running when 'over the top' towards the end of last season.
At 40/1, he's one rag I'd be happy enough to have a couple of shekels each way on, in a race where eight of 52 horses priced between 25/1 and 40/1 have been placed (and two have won) since 1997.
2000 Guineas Tips
So, after a lot of deliberation, we get to the 2012 QIPCO 2000 Guineas tips.
Firstly, I'm completely against Camelot. If he wins, fair enough, but I'll always look to oppose a short-priced horse like that who has so much to prove.
The most likely winner for me is probably Abtaal, who brings very solid form, an ability to handle the ground, and a perfectly legitimate excuse for a narrow defeat the last day. I think 9/1 each way is the best wager in the race.
Of the remainder, for those who want something at a bigger price, Trumpet Major was mightily impressive in winning the Craven over course and distance. This is clearly much tougher, but there will be no worries about trip, track or ground, and he has place prospects.
I think Talwar has an excellent chance of outrunning his market position - eleventh - and squeezing into the money. Not only did he win the same Lingfield Listed race that last year's 2000 Guineas second did, but he also finished at the back of the Racing Post Trophy, as last year's 2000 Guineas second did.
I'm also quite sweet on the prospects of Hermival, who for me is the one most likely to improve in the field. Mickael Delzangles does not bring them over for fun, and has run just twelve horses in the UK in the last seven years.
They included Makfi, 33/1 winner of this in 2010; Chineur, 7/1 winner of the Kings Stand Stakes in 2005; and Shankardeh, 6/1 second in last year's Lillie Langtry Stakes.
(Hermival also carries the first string colours of the owner, whose other horse is the better fancied - in the betting at least - French Fifteen).
Most likely 2000 Guineas winner: Abtaal 9/1
Best 2000 Guineas long shots: Hermival 22/1, Talwar 40/1
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