With Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown behind us, the time has come to focus solely on the new Flat campaign, and specifically this weekend’s Guineas Meeting from Newmarket.
Yes, the first Classics are almost upon us, and the usual suspects look set to dominate in both the 1000 and 2000 Guineas. Once again, it’s Ballydoyle that head the markets for both, with last year’s top juvenile Churchill, short-odds to beat the colts on Saturday. This could be the first of many Coolmore/Godolphin clashes throughout the season, with the ‘boys in blue’ represented by second-favourite Barney Roy, trained by 2014 winner Richard Hannon.
Aidan O’Brien has won five of the last dozen renewals, though had the disappointing favourite for last year’s race, Air Force Blue. He was by American stallion War Front, who has proved a rather unpredictable sire, despite strong and persistent backing from the guys at Coolmore. He appears to produce precocious juveniles, though the undoubted talent isn’t always carried forward to a three-year-old campaign.
There may therefore, be more confidence behind Churchill, as he is by the outstanding stallion Galileo. He’s out of a Storm Cat mare, making him similar in profile to 2015 winner Gleneagles.
Galileo has proved the common thread running through numerous recent winners. And his name appears in the pedigree for Hannon’s challenger Barney Roy. By top-class miler Excelebration out of a Galileo mare, he was an impressive winner of the Greenham Stakes at Newbury on his seasonal reappearance. He thundered home on that occasion, and Hannon is clearly looking forward to Saturday’s race: “Barney Roy is a horse we have been very excited about for a long time and he confirmed our views in impressive style when taking the Greenham. He still ran a bit green that day and I believe the step up in trip and the extra experience will stand him in good stead. I am very pleased for Sheikh Mohammed and Godolphin that I can take a horse of his quality to the race.”
Another fancied contender is the Martyn Meade trained Eminent. Winner of the Craven Stakes, this powerfully built colt is by Galileo’s most famous son, the mighty Frankel. He defeated Rivet last time out, needing every yard of the mile trip when pulling clear in the latter stages. Haafhd was the last horse, in 2004, to win both the Craven and the Guineas.
It’s Aidan O’Brien that also sends out the market leader for the 1000 Guineas on Sunday. Rhododendron completed her juvenile campaign with a stunning success at Newmarket in the Dubai Fillies’ Mile. Another from the Galileo production line, this filly is out of the Sun Chariot winning mare, Halfway To Heaven. It’s a cracking pedigree, as Team Coolmore look for their fourth win in six years. Outstanding fillies, Minding and Legatissimo have won the last two renewals.
Despite an incredible career, that has gleaned victories worldwide, John Gosden is yet to win the 2000 Guineas, and has only captured the fillies’ classic once. That’s not to say that he hasn’t come close to winning many more, and he has certainly produced outstanding milers, with the likes of Kingman, Raven’s Pass, Nannina and Elusive Kate springing instantly to mind.
Daban is his hope for Sunday’s renewal, following her win in the Nell Gwyn a couple of weeks back. The stable has started this campaign in dazzling form, and this filly looked exciting last time, showing a stunning turn-of-foot late on. Following her win, Gosden said: “She can only improve. I was expecting a good show from her. She’s a sweet, lovely filly and is very relaxed at home. She does have that cruising speed and ability to quicken which is what a good thoroughbred has.”
Fair Eva is another well-fancied filly carrying famous silks. Trained by Roger Charlton, she is the daughter of Frankel and runs in the instantly recognisable colours of Prince Khalid Abdullah. Placed in the Lowther and the Rockfel last autumn, her trainer is happy with her progress and confident of a huge run: “I'm very pleased with her and I'm satisfied she will stay a mile well,” Charlton told At The Races. “I think she has an excellent chance of finishing in the first four as she's already a Group Three winner and Group Two-placed - she justifies her place.”
Just how well these three-year-olds have trained-on is about to be tested. There-in lies the difficulty of assessing the chances of contenders for these early-season classics. A high-class pedigree, powerful connections and coming from one of the leading yards, is often the best starting point, when trying to pick the ‘Classic winner’ from the classy also-rans.