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Irish Flat Season 2017: Winners and Losers

Champions Day and the Breeders’ Cup are to come but the domestic turf season in Ireland is effectively over with only five meetings left. so now is a good time to take stock before we go full bore into national hunt mode. 2017 will go down as a good year with Enable, Aidan O’Brien’s drive for 25 and Keane versus Smullen among the memorable stories, though we probably could have done without rain spoiling play on many of the major race days. Rather than grade the trainers again this year I’ve decided to go with a winners and losers approach, a change being as good as a rest and all that.

 

Winner: Aidan O’Brien

Breaking Bobby Frankel’s record of 25 Group 1 winners in a season has been coming for a while with O’Brien but there was the suspicion that it would take a perfect storm of circumstances to finally get over the line. In reality, that unique set of conditions didn’t unfold as the trainer had plenty go wrong this season; his best horse from 2016 (Minding) had to retire early on, his dual Guineas winner Churchill failed to build on early successes while the pick of his juvenile colts (Gustav Klimt) never got to compete at the top level.

Yet it is almost inevitable that O’Brien will break the record anyway and even in an age of Group 1 inflation it rates a sizeable achievement. The trainer himself is apparently nonplussed by the whole situation and has always struck me as having a keen sense of living in the present; he always seems to think one of his current crop is his best ever! But racing is a sport with an especially rich history attached and it is worth celebrating.

As a side-note, one also has to admire his appreciation for each and every one of his big winners and it seems the feeling of winning has not gotten old for him despite its frequency. Perhaps that simply comes with the territory of dealing with horses and the manifold disappointments they provide but I would certainly have his attitude over the stony-faced ‘celebrations’ of Jim Gavin after Dublin’s All-Ireland win.

 

Loser: Dermot Weld

With 40 winners at the time of writing, Weld is in line for his lowest total since at least 1988 and probably before that; 1988 is as far back as the Racing Post database for season totals goes back. Not only is it his worst tally in nearly 30 years but it is significantly below his next lowest tally of 61 winners in 2004. Zhukova’s win in the Man o’ War at Belmont back in May will likely rate the high-point but even that was a lacklustre affair as she beat a motley crew of four opponents in a race that was run early due to a thunderstorm.

Galway was clearly disappointing with just two winners for the yard though a pair of successes over Irish Champions Weekend for Eziyra and Shamreen were warmly received. To be fair to the trainer, he flagged things up from an early stage, stating that his string were suffering with a virus back in May and indeed his number of runners has been well down on previous years. Pat Smullen was an obvious victim of the down campaign but it is to his credit that he has still managed to make the jockeys’ championship such a tight race given the relative lack of firepower from a yard that is typically his strongest supporter.

 

Winner: Johnny Murtagh

Murtagh will likely finish 2017 with fewer winners than in 2016 but overall he’s been a much improved trainer in recent seasons after a rocky start to his new career; none of this comes as the greatest surprise given the resilience he has shown in both personal and professional spheres throughout his life. What is most impressive about his operation is that there is a plan in place and for him it is all about the two-year-olds; far too many trainers seem to approach the campaign piecemeal with no sense of overall objectives.

But in 2017 Murtagh has sought to exploit an opening in the programme book and the trainer had every right to recently tweet out that his 57% winner to runner ratio with juveniles paces the field in 2017, ahead of Aidan O’Brien on 48% and Ger Lyons on 45% with the next best on 33%. I’ve been critical of Murtagh’s placing of horses here in the past but his methods with juveniles this season are beyond reproach; he managed to win Plus Ten races (races where there is an extra £10,000 to winner along with the usual prizemoney) with all eight of his juvenile winners with three – Golden Spell, Guessthebill and Too Familiar – winning two such races. None of his two-year-olds are stars, far from it in fact, but to basically double their prizemoney on 11 separate occasions is exemplary race planning.

 

Loser: David Wachman

David Wachman might well be enjoying life to the full now and good luck to him if so but the racing professional in him may regret the timing of his decision to retire at the end of 2016. The likes of Rain Goddess and White Satin Dancer were good prospects for this season but the campaign would likely have been all about Winter, already a four-time Group 1 winner for Aidan O’Brien with the potential of more to come this Saturday.

Some might argue that her success is simply a by-product of her move to Ballydoyle but while O’Brien is clearly the superior trainer of the two, that is to do Wachman down a little as he showed he could skilfully manage a similar type when he had Legatissimo in her classic season of 2014. It is also likely that he would have had some of the excellent juvenile fillies that currently reside in Ballydoyle under his care and it is hardly a ridiculous suggestion that Clemmie may have been one of those given he trained both her dam Meow and sister Curlylocks before the brother Churchill ever came along.

 

Winner: Brendan Duke

Despite making no meaningful impact on the trainers’ championship, Duke will go down as one of the stars of 2017 for his campaigning of Warm The Voice... and I mean his media campaign as much as anything! The horse has been a good juvenile, winning three times including a premier nursery at Listowel and getting black-type when third in the Beresford, but the real story has been Duke’s interviews both in print and on TV.

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His raw enthusiasm for horses and the sport have engaged many and his openness is a lesson to other trainers. There’s a wonderful sense of humour in there too and a sharp knack for the one-liners from comparing Warm To Voice to an ice-cream (‘he loves himself so much he’d lick himself’) to commenting on the difficult choice Kevin Manning would face at Newmarket next May when he had to pick between Duke’s stable star and Verbal Dexterity.

 

Loser: Camelot

One of the most overrated horses of this century, Camelot seems likely to prove little better as a sire with the his best progeny topping out at a Racing Post Rating of just 100 and a single Listed race being the most high-profile success to date. It is early days for a horse that stayed 14 furlongs as a three-year-old and perhaps his stock will do better in time but it does seem significant that Aidan O’Brien has yet to train a winner sired by his one-time star.

His three Irish winners have instead been trained by Patrick Prendergast, Jessica Harrington and Gavin Cromwell with the pick of his Ballydoyle-based runners thus far being the limited Lucius Tiberius; after I backed said horse recently, a fellow punter remarked that he could not be any good with a name like that! Camelot has however sired winners in Russia and Italy and that might be where he finishes up for all the brilliant naming possibilities offered by Arthurian legend.

 

Winner: Galway

It rained plenty in Galway during race week with racing taking place on varying degrees of soft across the seven days but that did little to quell enthusiasm for all that crowd numbers and bookmaker turnover were slightly down. The big players may have won the Plate and Hurdle with Willie Mullins also taking home the top trainer prize but a greatly reduced Weld factor led to a number of winners on the flat from unexpected sources, most of which came with their own stories.

Among them were Bubbly Bellini hitting another marker on the way to 20 career wins, Cascavelle providing Robbie McNamara with a first Galway winner, Remarkable Lady winning for Team Rogers and Browne on Hurdle Day, Perfect Soldier bringing the house down for Michael O’Callaghan and his Racing Club and of course Warm The Voice and Brendan Duke. The Fahey brothers too had an excellent week and it is winners like this that breathe life into the grassroots of the sport and encourage potential owners to get involved.

 

Loser: The Curragh

The decision to race on at the Curragh amidst building works was a debacle from the outset and became all the more unsatisfactory as we had to listen to mealy-mouthed justifications about maintaining the integrity of the racing programme. Leopardstown was the obvious alternative and arguments about the proximity of 12-furlong start to a bend and lack of a straight sprint course rang hollow when we consider some of the compromises that have been made elsewhere. A decision to hold the Curragh’s programme at another track would have created a welcome novelty factor akin to Royal Ascot at York in 2005 but instead we got a lot of bad will towards the course.

By the end of the season it was difficult to find anyone outside of the decision-makers who were in support of the Curragh continuing to race. The weather certainly didn’t help with feature days like the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and second day of Irish Champions Weekend blighted by rain but the fact that the track failed to reach capacity for the last two meetings said plenty. In any case, the Curragh’s susceptibility to bad weather was hardly news to anyone who regularly attends the track and we have to endure more of the same in 2018. A bad situation, made all the worst by the unnecessary nature of it all.

 

Winner: Colin Keane

Regardless of the outcome of the jockeys’ championship, Colin Keane has been a big winner in 2017, rising from champion apprentice just three seasons ago to be one of the biggest players in the weigh-room at just 23. His record in the saddle has been one of continual progression, his winner totals rising from 1 in 2010, to 9, 12, 42, 66, 75 and 90 in the succeeding seasons with 90 his current total. 2017 may have been a down year for the Weld/Smullen connection but that shouldn’t take away from Keane’s achievement and top-level sport is all about grasping opportunity when it presents itself.

Central to that achievement is that he is competing without the support of either Ballydoyle or Rosewell and is bidding to become the first champion jockey since Declan McDonogh in 2005 to reach the top when based with a stable other than the big two. It points not only to Keane’s ambition but also to Ger Lyons, who has to be commended for taking on a prospective champion so early and putting him in a position of responsibility.

- Tony Keenan

 

Coolmore calls it a day with Camelot

camelot4It can’t be the biggest surprise this season to find that last year’s dual Classic winner, Camelot, won’t race again. Instead, he’ll stand at the Coolmore stud next season. Read more

Irish stars missing from the Knavesmire

Camelot....missing

Camelot....missing

Those people who had hoped to see Aidan O’Brien stars Camelot and Kingsbarns on the Knavesmire this week will be disappointed, as neither is coming to York. Although both had entries there this week, O’Brien has decided neither is quite ready. Read more

Dettori and Godolphin part company

All good things come to an end. Hot on the heels of Frankel’s retirement the announcement came yesterday that Frankie Dettori would no longer have a retainer with Godolphin after riding in the famous blue silks since the organisation was set up 18 years ago. Read more

Sunday Supplement: The Slipped Triple Crown

Tony Stafford

Tony Stafford: Sunday Supplement

Sunday supplement 

by Tony Stafford

Nice bloke that Lee Westwood. Supports Nottingham Forest, you know. I was in the box at Doncaster on Saturday and had a nice chat with him. While I was watching the closing stages of the golf last weekend when he played so well in company with Rory McIlroy, I didn’t get the impression of what a big bloke he is. No wonder he had plenty of the beef on his plate. Nice catering at Doncaster.

He said on the telly after his great effort that he would be going home for the week before returning for the $10million shoot-out in the Players Championship, starting on Thursday. I hope either he or Rory wins it.

Lee probably needs it more, especially with Hoof It recovering from a Hobday operation and Mrs Lee – sister I believe to Andrew Coltart, she’s neat and Scottish anyway – needing a few dollars to pay for the move to Florida.

Mrs Lee looks a very nice lady, with a bit of a wee sparkle in the eye. Whether it’s because she recently read THAT book, you know the saucy one that people like her who “never read” have read and the one you see people with on the bus and the tube. I don’t even know the name of it and cannot be bothered to track it down via google!

At one time, while I got down to the serious business of choosing whether it would be summer pudding or that chocolate concoction that would round off my repast – I’d started with the smoked salmon – Lee’s famous trainer, Mr Michael Easterby, he of the interesting trousers and many thousands of acres, emerged over the threshold.

“Lee, he’s got another horse for you”, said someone, a frivolous comment that threatened to make Mrs Lee bridle with Scottish anxiety at the waste of more good money. But that soon passed over.

If I can relate a Mick Easterby story, which also emanates from a day at Doncaster, in this case a summer evening, and concerns a case of mistaken identity.

I was at Doncaster to witness a runner for Prince Ahmed Salman’s Thoroughbred Corporation – the green and white stripes that no longer adorn the British turf, following his sad death a decade ago. In those days, along with Willie Carson I was part of the entourage, dealing among other things with securing boxes at the last minute, and it was in one of said boxes that we watched a two-year-old win a seller with alacrity.

I suggested this horse could have potential and was despatched to bid for it at auction. The easy part was getting it, the hard part trying to work out who would train it. Then the Prince had a brainwave, saying: “Who’s that funny guy? He’s a trainer from the north.”

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Always willing to help, and with the capacity always to make two and two five, I had a Eureka moment. Mick Easterby! I suggested. And so, through the good offices of his nephew Tim, who trained for Thoroughbred Corp at the time, the two-year-old found its way to Mick. There was no great outcome in terms of results from the horse, but a couple of weeks later at Newbury, closure of sorts was effected.

“There’s the trainer I was talking about!” exclaimed the prince, pointing to an exceedingly portly gentleman, at least 35 years younger than Mick and dressed rather more sartorially, given that his bulk necessitated similarly generous garments to my own. It was Charles Egerton, Etonian, future London Marathon hero and like Easterby a genius trainer, but landed gentry rather than lifelong-scrimping Yorkshire landowner.

I related the story to Mick for about the third time on Saturday, and Lee listened with some gentle amusement. Don’t suppose it took his mind off next week’s $10 million possible payoff, or his upcoming responsibility at the St Leger winner’s presentation.

Like all of us in that particular box, Lee will have been rooting for Camelot, along in his case with Nottingham Forest.  Later, long after the presentation to Simon Crisford for Encke, whose turn of foot at the crucial time was the difference as Camelot did not instantly find the acceleration that had characterised all his earlier efforts, I saw Forest had fallen behind, but I didn’t want to upset our golfing hero.

In the car on the way home, they had gone 2-0 down, but rallied to 2-2. Lee’ll be happy.  Among the inner circle of the Camelot brigade, only Paul Smith, son of Chelsea fan Derrick, shares my and my pal Harry Taylor’s Arsenal allegiance, but his team’s 6-1 romp was almost an ironic sidebar to the deprivation of history for the great horse.

This defeat will be considered, like most Premier League reverses, in black and white by most people. In truth it will make no difference to his status as a great or even his future prospects at Coolmore stud as the true successor to his own recently deceased sire Montjeu. To win what he has in the style he achieved it was far out of the ordinary.

Earlier, as I stood on the balcony on the far point of the stand’s fourth floor looking over the daunting five-furlong straight, I must say I felt trepidation at what this horse was attempting. In my and indeed Michael Tabor, John Magnier and Derrick Smith’s lifetime, only Nijinsky (1970) followed Bahran (1935) as a Triple Crown winner.

On Saturday, it was not just the quality of horse that stood in the way of Aidan, Anne-Marie, Joseph and the three other young O’Briens’ making history, it was some exceptional trainers, John Gosden, Sir Henry Cecil, Mahmood Al Zarooni, David Lanigan, Tommy Carmody/ Johnny Murtagh and William Haggas that challenged the favourite.

In the pre-parade I was struck by the size and strength of all the runners, even pacemaker Dartford, and when I talked briefly to William Haggas when the Highclere team, which included Tory ex-minster Michael Howard, stepped away, he said: “It would be a great race, even without Camelot”.

He like me considers the St Leger – brought to new vibrancy by the ever-astute Mike Dillon and sponsors Ladbrokes – virtually a two-mile race, and it was in that context that Camelot’s initial inability to quicken instantly should be judged. I prefer to remember his brave, albeit unavailing last-furlong effort which clawed back almost all the three lengths by which Mikael Barzalona went clear of him.

It was an event to round off that amazing summer of sport and if not the right result for all of us in that box, and most racing fans, it showed the enduring appeal of horse racing. There’s no certainty in racing, just as Rory McIlroy must be aware there’s no certainty in golf. Especially if Mrs Lee reads that book again!

Bright future for changing Irish Derby and Arc

Camelot win boosts Saturday night Derby

Over recent years the Irish Derby has had something of an image problem, with an apparent decline in standing which has resulted in lower attendances and a decrease in betting turnover on the race. The decision of the Irish authorities to move the race from Sunday afternoon and make it the final race on a Saturday teatime card was both brave and imaginative. Read more

Epsom Derby 2012 Trends / Preview / Tips

Epsom Investec Derby 2012 Trends, Preview and Tips

Camelot to win the Epsom Derby 2012?

Camelot to win the Epsom Derby 2012?

It's the main Classic of the year, the Investec Derby 2012, at Epsom racecourse on Saturday, 2nd June, and here you'll find a full Derby preview, containing the key Derby trends and, of course, some Derby tips (win, each way, longshot).

So let's get into the Derby trends...

Epsom Derby 2012 Trends

There are some key trends for the Derby, taken over the last fifteen years, and they centre around the top of the market.

- Twelve of the last fifteen winners won their last race, and the other three finished second. So if your Derby fancy was third or worse last time, it doesn't look good...

- No Epsom Derby winner has started at a bigger price than 7/1 since 1998 (when the favourite was a filly!). The year before, 1997, Entrepreneur was sent off the 4/6 favourite having won the 2000 guineas on his previous start. He finished 4th. Since then, Sea The Stars has done the double (2009, 11/4). This year's hot favourite, Camelot, will also bid for the 2000 Guineas / Epsom Derby double.

- The top four in the betting have won 14/15, and all of the last thirteen Derby's.

- Of those to be officially rated by the handicapper, all were rated 108 or more, and all bar one were 113+

- Thirteen out of those fifteen were returning to the track within 16-30 days of their last run.

- Twelve of the last fifteen Epsom winners had had between three and five career runs, prior to Derby glory.

Epsom Derby 2012 Preview

In essence, if the trends are to be believed, this makes it a two horse race between impressive 2000 Guineas winner, Camelot, and impressive Dante winner, Bonfire.

However, just about the last time there was a big upset (1997) was when impressive 2000 Guineas winner, Entrepreneur, was sent off odds on favourite and could finish only fourth..

That year, Benny The Dip, the 11/1 3rd choice, prevailed. He had finished 3rd in the Racing Post Trophy at the end of the previous year, a performance that probably entitled him to consideration in the Derby itself; and then he was second in the Sandown Classic Trial the time before winning at Epsom.

Camelot is unbeaten in three races and has a perfect profile fit for the race. Every time I watch the 2000 Guineas, I'm more impressed by the way he won, and he was going away at the end. Whether that makes him a top drawer ten furlong horse, or a top drawer twelve furlong (Derby trip) horse, remains to be seen. But he deserves to be a clear favourite for this race, in my opinion (and just about everybody else's).

Bonfire won in good style at York in the Dante Stakes, the other top Derby trial, and he is the clear pick of the home challenge. He and nearest rival, Ektihaam, pulled four lengths clear of the form yardstick, Fencing, and it was another ten lengths back to the rest. With Ernest Hemingway clearly not firing, 'the rest' may have been trees... or, at least, non-stayers. He is another who ticks all boxes and may very well be an each way bet to nothing against such a strong favourite.

Main Sequence is third favourite currently and is unbeaten. But his official rating of 106 would be the lowest in the last fifteen years at least to win the Derby. On balance, that's too big a leap of faith, despite the fact he remains a colt of potential. I suspect he may stay even further and it would not surprise me if he wound up running a big race in the St Leger before the season is out.

The winner of the Sandown Trial this time was Imperial Monarch, who is unbeaten in two starts.

Incredibly, to me at least, it's ten years since Aidan O'Brien won the Derby - with High Chapparal - and that was his second string that day, as Hawk Wing (runner up) was sent off favourite.

Imperial Monarch has recorded his two wins on soft ground, and is bred on soft ground lines (German sire loved soft and dam sire, Slip Anchor, also liked it muddy). That doesn't mean Imperial Monarch won't act on faster, just that we don't know he will act on faster.

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It was a really strange race that last day, as Joseph O'Brien brought Imperial Monarch to the near side and the others stayed on the shorter route, the far side. That manoeuvre was probably an extra half furlong onto the race distance, but was counter-balanced by the better ground he encountered as a consequence.

It would take a quantum physicist with a second doctorate in blarney to adequately assess that line of form, and Imperial Monarch can only be called a wild card. He could win, but there's nothing so far to suggest he ought to be joint fourth favourite, in my view at least.

Can Parish Hall win the Derby?

Can Parish Hall win the Derby?

Parish Hall is interesting. I am writing this before his run in the Irish 2000 Guineas. If he wins and wins well, already a big 'if', then he'd be second or third favourite.

But that race is just seven days before the Derby, and only one horse in recent memory has come back to win within two weeks let alone a single week. It's asking too much for my money to be investing in a horse bidding for a Classic double on back-to-back Saturdays.

Besides which, he's yet to run beyond seven furlongs in his life, so an extra half mile after Saturday's Guineas run is a massive step up in trip, and another imponderable.

Deep down in the midst of the unknown's, there is a horse whose trainer is a magician, and who is unbeaten in a four start career. If he shows up, he'll be worthy of serious respect. And his name is Kesampour. Owned by the Aga Khan, this chap won a muddling Group 2 last time on very soft ground.

The slow pace and deep ground may not have been to his liking and he showed a very favourable attitude to repel two different challenges. Class horses are able to maintain their challenge under duress for longer, and the way he battled that day showed he has guts as well as talent.

He's previously won on good ground so that ought not to be an issue for him, and I've had a little nibble at 80 on Betfair. Obviously, if he doesn't run, I'll lose my tenner, but I got drawn in by the odds... (He's a best priced 33/1 with Skybet as I write, 20/1 elsewhere).

Epsom Derby 2012 Tips

So there you have it. In my opinion, the fancied horses will probably fare best again, but there is a dark horse and an each way bet to nothing in the field too.

Best Epsom Derby 2012 Win Bet

Camelot - 4/5 Paddy Power

Best Epsom Derby 2012 Each Way Bet

Bonfire - 6/1 Victor Chandler

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Best Epsom Derby 2012 Outsider Bet

Kesampour - 33/1 SkyBet [now a non-runner]

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Good Luck!

QIPCO 2000 Guineas 2012 Preview and Tips

2000 Guineas Tips

2000 Guineas Tips and Preview

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.

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Before you read the rest of this post, a quick question...

[poll id="43"]

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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.

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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 can win the 2000 Guineas

Abtaal can win the 2000 Guineas

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.

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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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