• Punjabi Girl wins The Fillies Championship Stakes (Gr.1)
  • Sir Cecil wins The Colts Championship Stakes (Gr.1)
By Anil Mukhi
Friday 04 May 2018
Anil Mukhi

This is one of those years when both the Kentucky Derby and the 2000 Guineas fall on the same day – Saturday, May 5th. This has led to a pre-race dilemma for the Coolmore team, as their retained rider Ryan Moore, with live chances in both events, could not be in two places at the same time! A hard choice had to be made. In view of Mendelssohn’s 18-1/2 length victory on dirt in the UAE Derby, it always looked likely that the first leg of the American Triple Crown in Louisville, Kentucky, would prove irresistible and thereby magnetically attract Moore – and so it has proved.

That said, the Qipco 2000 Guineas, to be run at 3:35 p.m. (8:05 p.m. in India) remains a very competitive race with 14 colts declared to run. Irish ace Aidan O’Brien has won it a record number of times – eight, to be precise – his winners being King Of Kings (1998), Rock Of Gibraltar (2002), Footstepsinthesand (2005), George Washington (2006), Henrythenavigator (2008), Camelot (2012), Gleneagles (2015) and Churchill (2017). Remarkably, each of the above-named eight was making its first start of the year!

Things could change in 2018 – assuming O’Brien wins with Gustav Klimt, the only Galileo-sired runner in the field. His schooler managed to get a run into this talented colt by starting him off in the 7 fur. 2000 Guineas Trial Stakes at Leopardstown in Ireland 3 weeks ago. In his first public appearance since July 2017 Gustav Klimt, named after an Austrian painter, duly won to show that he has trained on. Seamie Heffernan is the stable’s able deputy for Moore and has accordingly been entrusted with the steering duties on the 5 to 2 favourite and this capable rider can deliver – if his mount is good enough.

Of course, O’Brien could well win it with the unbeaten Saxon Warrior (by Deep Impact), which would – if it happens – provide his Japan-based sire with his first Classic win in England (he has had Beauty Parlour score for him in France in the French 1000 Guineas). A scopy sort, Saxon Warrior has grown substantially from 2 to 3 and might just find the 189-day absence a bridge too far and the distance a tad sharp. On the other hand, as an undefeated colt he might have more in the tank than has been exposed so far. O’Brien has reposed his faith in his son, Donnacha, to bring the trophy home to Ballydoyle on the 5 to 1 chance.

It’s not an all Aidan O’Brien show – far from it! This column was most impressed with Godolphin’s Masar (by New Approach, sire also of 2000 Guineas winner Dawn Approach), who annexed the bet365 Craven Stakes at Newmarket last month with a clinical display of front-running over course and distance. The Dubai-based outfit’s private trainer, Charlie Appleby, has been in great form this spring, as has retained rider William Buick. As such, 5 to 1 looks an attractive price about the good-looking chestnut.

Could there be a more appropriate pedigree for a Guineas winner than that possessed by the unbeaten Elarqam? He is by Frankel, perhaps the best 2000 Guineas winner of all time, out of Attraction, who annexed the 1000 Guineas in her days. There was wagering in England last year on the chances of Frankel siring a classic winner from his first crop, and while he did get a Japanese Oaks victress, he missed out in England, Ireland and France. Oddly, the only two defeats suffered by Frankel’s best runner, the very high class Cracksman, came in the English and Irish Derbies!

Anyway, Shadwell liked the Frankel-Attraction colt so much as a yearling that they paid a sale-topping 1,600,000 guineas at Tattersalls October for him and then sent him to Mark Johnston, who had trained Attraction in her day. Johnston started him twice last year, in a maiden and in a Group 3 race and he won convincingly on both occasions. The colt has been working forwardly and is an 11 to 2 chance here. Jim Crowley has the call.

At one stage last year it seemed that Juddmonte’s Expert Eye (by Acclamation) would end the 2017 season as champion juvenile in England. Then came a shocker when he started at odds-on but finished last of nine in the Darley Dewhurst Stakes in October, thereby spoiling the outstanding record of odds-on choices, nine of the ten previous such runners in this race having prevailed. A ready reason was at hand to explain this debacle – the bay was found to be slightly lame. Rested and brought back in the Greenham Stakes at Newbury a couple of weeks ago, he ran a far better race when a close second to James Garfield (by Exceed And Excel). His trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, is vastly experienced and can well wring the small improvement out of him that is needed to do the trick. Andrea Atzeni, who is familiar with the free-running colt, returns to guide him. Should Expert Eye settle well and see out the trip, 10 to 1 could look very generous.

Because of his excellent form at 2 last year, when his performances included a win in the Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes and a hard-fought second in the Racing Post Trophy, Roaring Lion (by Kitten’s Joy) started the bet365 Craven Stakes last month as an odds-on choice. After all, Timeform had described him as “one of the best three-year-old prospects for 2018”. However in the Craven he ran more like a whimpering simian, having nothing to offer by way of a challenge to Masar, and beaten a long way out The master of Clarehaven Stables, John Gosden, is sure to have undertaken remedial measures and a better display is expected from the Qatar Racing-owned grey, available at 16 to 1 with Oisin Murphy on board.

With the defection of Without Parole (by Frankel) due to a bruised foot, Frankie Dettori became available to partner the afore-mentioned James Garfield, who races for those well-known patrons of British racing, the Gredley family (Environment Friend, User Friendly, etc.), and is trained by William Gredley’s 29-year-old son-in-law, George Scott. The Greenham victory allied with the Dettori booking on the Irish-bred have not impressed the bookmaking fraternity who seem to think so little of his chances that he is on offer at 25 to 1.

Overall, the race is a tantalizing puzzle, to solve which one has to be able to read into the minds of the runners and their handlers. Given that the horses can’t speak and the schoolers won’t necessarily reveal any insights they may have, one has to take current form as the best guide. On this metric, Masar, Gustav Klimt and James Garfield come into the reckoning as being the principal contenders. If you consider potential alone, then Saxon Warrior, Expert Eye and Elarqam warrant attention.