With a pair of aces at his disposal, it appears that Aidan O’Brien has a great chance of landing his ninth 2000 Guineas.
With three victories from the last six, including two from the last three, the Co Tipperary handler has last year’s Superlative Stakes winner, Gustav Klimt, and the Racing Post Trophy hero, Saxon Warrior.
GK won that Superlative by a head having incurred trouble in running. The Charlie Hills-trained Nebo was runner-up, and he’s proved himself to be a solid yardstick. Great Prospector was half-a-length further back, and I think it’s fair to say that Klimt defeated a bunch of sprinters that day (he’s by Galileo, out a six-furlong dam). That shows just how quick he is, though possibly also shows that his opponents on that occasion were not running at their optimum trip (seven furlongs). In a slowly run race, this fella certainly has the ‘zip’, but the 2000 Guineas isn’t a race for sprinters and I’d be concerned that he may be outstayed by a ‘proper’ miler.
Saxon Warrior, on the other hand, looks a strong traveller who will be doing his best work at the end of the race. He’s more stoutly bred than Gustav, being by Deep Impact out the Galileo mare, Maybe. She was third in the 1000 Guineas and fifth in the Oaks, so Saxon Warrior ought to stay further than the mile. Of course, pedigree on paper doesn’t always materialize on the track, but the Group One Racing Post success, suggested that this fella will be ideally suited by the Guineas. Roaring Lion swept passed him a furlong from home that day, but he battled back and appeared to be well in control at the line. The pair had pulled clear of the remainder, and the form looks rock solid. He comes here without a prep-run, similarly to the last two O’Brien winners, Churchill and Gleneagles.
Masar and Elarqam head the British challenge, with the latter possessing the most exciting pedigree in this year’s renewal. Trained by Mark Johnston, he’s by the mighty Frankel out of 1000 Guineas winner Attraction. If breeding guaranteed the major prizes, this fella could be crowned the Guineas winner before the stalls opened. He won both his juvenile starts, the latter success coming at Newmarket, when stretching clear late on over the seven-furlong trip. He looked a long striding leggy juvenile, and that he was able to win so well is probably testament to his class. His lack of experience is a slight concern, though Camelot and Makfi were recent winners off the back of just two runs. He certainly looks a leading contender.
Masar blasted his way into the Guineas picture with a stunning success in the Craven Stakes. He’s by the Guineas runner-up and Epsom Derby winner New Approach, out of a Cape Cross mare. His pedigree suggests he’ll get further in time, though his Craven performance showed he should be effective at a mile. The pace that day was modest, before Buick asked his mount for maximum effort. He galloped powerfully throughout the final two-furlongs for a nine-length success. Roaring Lion was a disappointment back in third, though lacked match fitness. He’s unlikely to get the easy lead that he enjoyed last time, though that may not stop him from putting in a huge performance.
The top four in the betting are a little clear of both Expert Eye and Roaring Lion. The latter must reverse a thumping by Masar and a narrow defeat to Saxon Warrior. I’d be surprised if he can do either. The former looked a thrilling prospect when winning the Vintage Stakes last August, though has disappointed twice since. He flopped in the Dewhurst, when far too keen throughout. And a couple of weeks back could only finish second to James Garfield in the Greenham. He should improve for the run, but I’m struggling to see why he’ll win. He may actually improve by being dropped back in trip, and I can see him becoming a six-furlong specialist in time.
Of those at a bigger price, I’d give a mention to David Simcock’s Raid. He was having only his second career start when finishing an eye-catching fourth in the Greenham last time. He should improve plenty for that, and I’d fancy that he’ll prove best of those that ran at Newbury that day. Whether he can sneak into a place is questionable, though his current odds of 50s make him a tempting proposition. This race often yields treats to the each-way punter.
One I’d likely to mention, that isn’t here, is the O’Brien trained US Navy Flag. He may yet prove to be the stables leading miler, though dodges this in favour of the French Guineas. Good or quicker ground is essential for this fella and I fancy he’ll prove to be top class.
I’ve found it quite difficult to choose between Saxon Warrior and Elarqam, but am finally swayed by the O’Brien factor. I’ll take the Racing Post winner to land this year’s opening Classic and then head for a crack at the Epsom Derby. Despite thinking he’s probably not quite good enough, I’ll be having a little each-way on Raid. He may just sneak into the places. Best of luck to all those having a punt.