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Harrington sights set on Guineas victory for Vega

Jessica Harrington expects Lucky Vega to put up a bold bid for Classic glory in Saturday’s Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas.

Already a Group One winner at the Curragh, having claimed an impressive victory in the Phoenix Stakes last summer, the three-year-old made a promising start to the new campaign when a close-up third in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket three weeks ago.

He is set to renew rivalry with Jim Bolger’s Rowley Mile hero Poetic Flare, but as he could only finish sixth in last weekend’s French 2000 Guineas, Lucky Vega is the clear favourite to turn the tables on home soil.

All of those who ran on fast ground at Newmarket can expect to encounter very different conditions this weekend, with the ground so testing that course officials held an inspection on Saturday morning before giving the card the go-ahead.

“He’s been great – I’m very happy with him,” Harrington said of Lucky Vega.

“This is a severe switch round on ground. I was a little bit worried going to Newmarket on good to firm ground, even though he’d won on it as a two-year-old – and now we’re going to be on soft ground at the Curragh.

“He saw out the mile very well at Newmarket, and has a really relaxed way of going. He has won on easy ground before (Phoenix Stakes, good to yielding), so I’m hoping all will be fine. It’s going to be the same for everyone.

“It’s the beginning of the year, so it’s who is improving really – he’s a very relaxed horse at home.”

Aidan O’Brien, who has already won the Irish 2,000 Guineas on a record 11 occasions, this year fires a dual assault.

Van Gogh fared best of the duo when eighth in the Newmarket equivalent, with Wembley ultimately disappointing in finishing 11th.

O’Brien said of Van Gogh: “He was very close to being fifth in the Guineas, he just got tired in the last 50 yards. Maybe our Newmarket horses were a couple of weeks behind where we thought they were.

“He came out of the race very well. He is a big, strong traveller. He had very good form at the back-end of last year and we have been very happy with him since as well.

“He has form on soft ground in France, but I don’t think he needs it, we always thought he’d be better on nice ground.”

Wembley (left) chased home St Mark's Basilica on soft in the Dewhurst
Wembley (left) chased home St Mark’s Basilica on soft in the Dewhurst (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“It’s a shame about the weather, but that’s the way it is.

“Wembley has form on soft ground in the Dewhurst, but we always thought he wanted nice ground. At least he has some form on soft, though.”

Battleground was a late non-runner for O’Brien.

British hopes are carried by Charlie Appleby’s La Barrosa and the Hugo Palmer-trained The Rosstafarian.

La Barrosa was last seen pushing stablemate and subsequent 2000 Guineas runner-up Master Of The Seas close in the Craven Stakes Stakes.

La Barrosa pushed Master Of The Seas close in the Craven
La Barrosa pushed Master Of The Seas close in the Craven (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“La Barrosa disappointed on testing ground at Saint-Cloud (last year), but we feel there were other contributing factors. It was the end of the season and he scoped dirty post-race, so I think you can put a bit of a line through that run,” Appleby told www.godolphin.com.

“His preparation has gone well and he put up a very good performance behind Master Of The Seas on his three-year-old return.

“A repeat of that effort should make him very competitive.”

The Rosstafarian, who is owned by Middleham Park Racing, was fifth in the Craven.

Middleham Park’s Tom Palin said: “The horse did a fantastic pace of work this week – Hugo couldn’t have been happier.

“It’s amazing how in the last three weeks since we decided not to go for the English Guineas he has really matured and grown up.

“Michael Hills rides him in all his pieces of work and he had a real job pulling him up the other day. We couldn’t be happier with how he is at home. The penny has dropped since the Craven. He’s a much more street-wise horse than what we had.

“It’s going to be quite a test on stamina, but he’s a horse we think we’ll be looking at running over nine or 10 furlongs. I don’t think he’ll be beaten for stamina in the soft ground.”

Burrows puts Minzaal to test in ‘red-hot’ Middle Park

Owen Burrows is eager to discover just how good Minzaal is when he runs in a high-class renewal of the Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket.

A hugely impressive winner of the Gimcrack at York last time out, the Mehmas colt has been a bit of a buzz horse since.

Following his win on the Knavesmire, Burrows stated he felt Minzaal was all about speed and that – rather than try to stretch him into a Guineas horse – the Commonwealth Cup would be his likely target.

“It looks a red-hot race, the best of the crop really, and it was always going to be,” Burrows said of Saturday’s Group One.

Trainer Owen Burrows has enjoyed a good season
Trainer Owen Burrows has enjoyed a good season (Simon Cooper/PA)

“Fingers crossed, we are going there with every chance.

“We knew straight after York this would be his race – I wasn’t tempted by anything else, and timing-wise it has been perfect.

“Having won his Group Two at York, this was the next obvious place to come.

“There was plenty of rain before racing on Thursday, and the jocks are saying it is riding a bit dead. I’d imagine it will be very similar ground to what it was in the Gimcrack, just on the soft side of good – no excuses for anybody, I shouldn’t think.

“The nerves are not too bad, and I’m looking forward to it. We’ll learn a bit more about him and we’ll see how good he is.”

Lucky Vega is the only Group One winner in the field
Lucky Vega is the only Group One winner in the field (PA Wire)

Unusually, the Irish challenge is not led by Aidan O’Brien – whose Lipizzaner will be one of the outsiders – and Jessica Harrington instead fulfils that role.

Her Lucky Vega is the only Group One winner in the field, having scorched clear in the Phoenix Stakes, but it all then went wrong last time in the National Stakes when he met all sorts of trouble in running.

Harrington said: “It would be fair to say his last race didn’t go to plan, but we don’t need to say any more about that.

“Prior to that, he was very impressive in the Phoenix Stakes – and on that form he should have a good chance.

“I wouldn’t imagine we’ll be using the ground as an excuse – he’s pretty versatile, and it shouldn’t be bottomless.

“We haven’t done much with him since the National, just kept him ticking over, (and) we’re looking for a big run.”

Another major contender is Clive Cox’s Supremacy, hugely impressive when coming home four lengths clear in the Richmond Stakes at Goodwood.

“He was an exciting winner of the Richmond, and he’s had a healthy break in between there and here,” said Cox.

“He’s shown us plenty of class, but has physically progressed since Goodwood and we’re very much looking forward to seeing him perform here.”

Martyn Meade’s Method is defending the only unbeaten record in the race and will be ridden by Frankie Dettori – with Oisin Murphy claimed by Qatar Racing to ride The Lir Jet – but the trainer is watching the skies.

Meade said: “Everything that we can control I’ve been delighted with, but the one thing we can’t – the weather – may scupper us.

“I really want to run him, because there’s nothing else for him – he’s not in the Dewhurst, and I’d want to keep him over six furlongs anyway – but I wouldn’t want him pulled about on heavy ground.

“I’ve been pleased watching most of the others have hard races while we were always coming straight here – so he’s had a lovely break, been freshened up and hopefully we get to run him.

“Newmarket can dry quickly, and it is very windy – I just hope they don’t have any more of those downpours.

“He’s got lots of speed, so I wouldn’t want to run him if it went bottomless. This has always been the plan, and earlier in the week I thought the ground would be perfect for him. This is the one we’ve been aiming at, but I just don’t want to risk him on extreme ground.”

The Lir Jet was second to Lucky Vega in the Phoenix Stakes, but had earlier beaten Wes Ward’s speedster Golden Pal at Royal Ascot.

“It’s a cracking race and a very deep renewal of the race, I think,” said jockey Murphy.

The Lir Jet (left) edged out Golden Pal at Royal Ascot
The Lir Jet (left) edged out Golden Pal at Royal Ascot (Julian Finney/PA)

“I’ve obviously got off Method, and Frankie has jumped on in my place. He’s a very exciting horse who won his Listed race well.”I thought Minzaal was a very impressive winner of the Gimcrack, and I was impressed with Supremacy at Goodwood.

“The Lir Jet has to step up a bit on ratings, but he’s a big, scopey horse who I hope is still improving.

“I’m open-minded regarding the trip, and any dig in the ground won’t bother him.”

Foley keen on Lucky Vega chance in National Stakes

Shane Foley expects the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes to be one of the races of the weekend as he prepares to ride Lucky Vega against Battleground and Master Of The Seas at the Curragh.

Lucky Vega arrives on the back of arguably the most impressive performance by a juvenile this season in the Phoenix Stakes, when Jessica Harrington’s youngster quickened away to win by three and a half lengths.

Sunday’s assignment represents a different task – with Aidan O’Brien’s Chesham winner Battleground and the Charlie Appleby-trained Superlative Stakes scorer Master Of The Seas in opposition – but Foley is feeling confident.

“From day one he’s always been a nice horse,” said Foley, speaking on an Irish Champions Weekend preview.

“He had a little hold-up after his maiden win, which meant it was a bit of a rush getting to the Railway Stakes. He got beat in that, but improved no end for it and showed what he was capable of in the Phoenix.

“He’s laid-back, so should have no problem going up to seven furlongs. Looking at it, it looks one of the races of the weekend – with Battleground and Master Of The Seas.”

Battleground followed up his Ascot win in the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood, and now gets to race closer to home.

“He’s a big, powerful horse and has done very well physically since Goodwood – and we’re looking forward to running him,” said O’Brien.

“He’s handled good ground and slowish ground.”

Appleby has won the last two editions of the National Stakes with the ill-fated Quorto and last year’s champion juvenile Pinatubo – so is bidding for a hat-trick.

Master Of The Seas looks another top-class colt in the making for Charlie Appleby
Master Of The Seas looks another top-class colt in the making for Charlie Appleby (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He worked nicely during the week, and we’re very pleased with him,” said the Godolphin trainer.

“It’s going to be a good race. I saw Battleground at Ascot and I was at Goodwood when he won. I respect Jessica Harrington’s horse as well – he won the Phoenix well.

“Thankfully it’s a race we’ve had a bit of luck in in recent years, and it would be nice to continue it.”

Joseph O’Brien’s Thunder Moon bolted up on his debut, but lacks in experience compared to the others.

“Obviously it’s a big step up in class from a maiden straight into a Group One, but we didn’t have many other options,” said the Owning Hill trainer.

“He’s in at the deep end, but couldn’t have won his debut any easier.”

Ken Condon with Law Of Indices

Ken Condon, with Laws Of Indices (INPHO/PA)Ken Condon’s Laws Of Indices had Lucky Vega behind him when winning the Railway but was then only fourth in the Phoenix.

“He’s not ground dependent, and he’s a very straightforward horse,” said Condon.

“Physically, he’s doing very well.

“I’m very happy with where he’s at – he looks a picture, and I think he’ll give a good showing.”

Jim Bolger’s Mac Swiney is another who has Group race-winning form to his name – over course and distance in the Futurity Stakes.