The jumps are over until autumn but this season sees the flat back in earnest with the opening Classic of the season, the 2000 Guineas, the feature of Saturday’s big card at Newmarket.
It’s a great race with a stellar role of honour – and despite this year’s renewal attracting one of the smallest fields in decades, it looks an above-average renewal with plenty of intriguing sub-plots.
Serial-winning sire Galileo is represented by the favourite Churchill for equally-serial-winning trainer Aidan O’Brien, and he looks much the best of Ballydoyle’s four runners.
Other than defeat on debut he was undefeated as a two-year-old – a sequence including two Group One victories – and his sire’s progeny almost always train on at three, so a big run seems as assured as his short price suggests.
However, such short prices don’t always reflect stable confidence or true chances – just look at how another Ballydoyle hot-pot Air Force Blue got on in this race last year with an odds-on starting price.
Air Force Blue was by a different sire, War Front, whose progeny are known not to train at three, so Churchill shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush and the vibes from Ireland are confident ones.
Half-brothers Gleneagles (1st in 2015), Australia (2nd in 2014) and the all-time-great Frankel (1st in 2011) have all made a big mark on this race, so Churchill ticks virtually every box.
The short price is in part due to the lack of viable alternatives throughout the winter, however recent trials have thrown up plenty of classy challengers and the race now has a ‘big four’ feel to the betting, despite bookmakers refusing to ease the favourite.
I’ll start with the most unknown, second-favourite Al Wukair for French maestro Andre Fabre, who has a phenomenal strike rate at Newmarket and doesn’t send horses over the channel unless they’re in with a big chance.
We know he’s going to be good but the value looks to have gone, and it’s hard to make a case at 9/2 when the home team appear to have such strong claims.
Whilst Galileo’s sons and daughters have been farming Classic races like this for years now, his progeny are up against the first crop of three-year-olds by his most famous of sons, Frankel, whose own sons and daughters have been in fine form so far this season.
Frankel is represented by EMINENT and Dream Castle in the 2000 Guineas – while his old sparring partner Excelebration, who spent almost his entire career chasing his shadow, has his own top-class first generation three-year-old in the mix with Barney Roy.
Eminent won the Craven Stakes over the 2000 Guineas course and distance a few weeks ago in a time that would have been good enough for a massive majority of 2000 Guineas renewals in the past few decades.
Race times are dangerous things to read too literally, but such was the brilliance of his sire that it’s hard not to sit up and take notice, particularly as he had the Group One winner Rivet beaten into second to add real substance to the form.
That was his seasonal debut and just his second visit to the race track, so you’d expect the horse to improve again, and that’s quite a statement.
Galileo may be the dominant sire in world racing but the Frankels are unexposed as three-year-olds and Eminent could be anything, with the little evidence so far suggesting he could be something special.
Though he was available at 10/1 after the Craven, he’s still so easy to back at 15/2 with Paddy Power so I’m on-board.
The other major trial, the seven-furlong Greenham Stakes at Newbury the Saturday following the Craven, saw Barney Roy outstay another Frankel son DREAM CASTLE, who looked a certain winner approaching the final furlong and traded long odds-on in running.
Both are owned by Godolphin and there was an initial suggestion Dream Castle would opt for sprinting trips for the rest of the season, such was the speed he showed at Newbury and his apparent inability to stay.
However, he’s been declared and has been marked up at 16/1 across the board, which to me looks huge.
He was never going to stay in the Greenham after racing so keenly and breaking from the stalls so clumsily – and he won’t be able to get away with that in the Guineas – but connections have reached for head gear to help him settle and, if he can, he’s a big player.
He’s clearly got bags of pace and left Barney Roy for dead whilst on the bridle in the middle of the Greenham, so it’s easy to envisage him land the race with a turn of foot… should he settle.
He has plenty to find with Barney Roy and there’s no obvious reason he’ll improve for the extra furlong – in fact it’s more likely to be a negative – but I can’t have him a quarter of the price on the Newbury evidence and Dream Castle is the value bet of the pair.
So two Frankels are the selections, both out to emulate their brilliant sire by winning the Guineas.
Win or lose, it’s a brilliant race to kick off the flat season.
1.5pt win Eminent @15/2 or best morning price, 15:35 Newmarket, Saturday (StanJames)
0.5pt win Dream Castle @16/1, 15:35 Newmarket, Saturday (several firms offer 1/4 odds, 3 places)