Classic Trials May Shed More Light on 2000 Guineas Picture
It feels like the calm before the storm. With most attention understandably centred on Saturday’s Randox Health Grand National, the build-up to the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on May 5 has to some degree slipped under the radar.
That will certainly change once a new Aintree hero has been crowned and the eyes of the racing world begin to fully focus on finding the first classic winners of 2018. Newmarket’s three-day Craven meeting begins on Tuesday, April 17, and includes a series of significant trials for both the 1000 and 2000 Guineas.
The nine-furlong listed Feilden Stakes is the first of the trials, although historically it is more of a stepping stone for aspiring middle-distance stars. In 2015, John Gosden’s Golden Horn won this race before going on to glory at Epsom in the Investec Derby, the Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown, the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, and a stunning win in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in France.
The following day’s European Free Handicap is for aspiring three-year-old colts over seven furlongs, but you have to go back to Clive Brittain’s grey Mystico in 1992 to find the last horse to win this race and then the 2000 Guineas. The general perception is that the Group 3 Craven Stakes, run over the same mile as the 2000 Guineas itself, is the strongest of the three trials. Back in 2004, Barry Hills’ Haafhd took the race then followed up in the 2000 Guineas.
The Aidan O’Brien Factor
Trends have changed though over the last few decades with a growing number of horses being sent to Newmarket to bid for the 2000 Guineas without a previous run that season. In the last decade, seven winners came to the big race without a previous run that campaign; Henrythenavigator (2008), Sea The Stars (2009), Camelot (2012), Dawn Approach (2013), Gleneagles (2015), Galileo Gold (2016), and Churchill (2017, video below).
Of those seven 2000 Guineas winners, four were trained by Aidan O’Brien who currently dominates the ante-post market for next month’s renewal with Saxon Warrior (11/2 with Sportingbet), Betting.net’s early ante-post selection Gustav Klimt (8/1 with Bet365), and US Navy Flag (12/1 with Sky Bet). O’Brien’s Mendelssohn, a devastatingly good winner of the UAE Derby at Meydan in Dubai nine days ago, is still available in some lists at 16/1 but is reported to be far more likely to travel to Churchill Downs to bid for the Kentucky Derby, for which he is generally 5/1 ante-post favourite.
Saxon Warrior, a brave winner of last season’s Group 1 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster (see video below), where he fought back to deprive John Gosden’s classy Roaring Lion (8/1 with Paddy Power) in the dying strides, is apparently pleasing his trainer. The pair may lock horns again at HQ.
“He has become a massive colt, a big monster of a horse,” O’Brien told the Racing Post recently. “We have our eyes on the Guineas and I just hope we have him ready in time. He’s more likely to have a racecourse gallop than a race before we decide about Newmarket.”
For his part, Roaring Lion has also been pleasing connections, Gosden yesterday issuing an upbeat report following the colt’s first serious gallop of the season.
“Roaring Lion is in great order,” confirmed the former champion trainer. “He is aiming for the Craven. It was always the plan to give him a run. He is a horse with a great constitution. We are at home at Newmarket and he has won over course and distance.”
While it seems all but certain Saxon Warrior (if he runs in the 2000 Guineas) will go there without a prior race, stable companion Gustav Klimt may have an outing to sharpen him up in Saturday’s Ballylinch Stud 2000 Guineas Trial. US Navy Flag is also being considered for the Leopardstown seven furlong contest.
“Gustav Klimt could start off in the Leopardstown trial,” said O’Brien. “His season ended early after he won the Superlative Stakes. We think it was a muscle behind that troubled him and we decided to put him away. He’s done well.”
Other Interesting 2000 Guineas Contenders
In the free horse racing tips highlighted in our initial 2000 Guineas ante-post preview, we reported the high regard in which northern raider Elarqam (by legendary 2000 Guineas winner Frankel, out of 1000 Guineas winner Attraction) is held by trainer Mark Johnston. He has subsequently been one of the best backed horses and is now a top-priced 7/1 shot with BetBright.
Trainer Roger Teal, who sent out his Tip Two Win to run second to Elarqam in the Group 3 Tattersalls Stakes at Newmarket last September and has never before had a classic runner, has seen his colt win twice in the UAE this winter. He has confirmed that the Dark Angel colt, still a 66/1 shot with Betfair, is an intended runner on May 5.
“He’s just stepping up his work now and it’s all systems go for the Guineas,” Teal told reporters. “He had a short break [after winning twice in Doha] and he’s back winding up into full work now. I’m trying to stay calm and collected for now but, 48 hours before, that might change a bit. I’m looking forward to it and we’re praying for sunshine.”
Another trainer to express optimism that his 2000 Guineas entrant will arrive at Newmarket on the top of his game is Jim Bolger, who won the great race back in 2013 with Dawn Approach. His Verbal Dexterity (20/1 with Unibet), winner of last season’s Group 1 National Stakes at the Curragh (see video below) before finishing a below-par fourth behind Saxon Warrior in the Racing Post Trophy soon after a health scare, is reported to be working very well.
“I was hoping to run him in the Dewhurst [Stakes, last October],” Bolger explained in The Sun, “but he didn’t scope right leading up to it and we didn’t run. We decided to take a chance and run him in the Racing Post Trophy two weeks later, but it didn’t work out and he never raised a gallop. The plan is to run him in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and he won’t have a run before then. I’m very happy with him at the minute.”
Ahead of the forthcoming classic trials in Britain and Ireland, we remain content with our recommendation of 8/1 Gustav Klimt (with Bet365) for the Qipco 2000 Guineas. We’ll revisit the ante-post market for this race later on this month.
Written by Paul Alster
Paul Alster has been part of the British and international racing media for more than three decades working as a race commentator, TV/radio presenter, journalist, betting correspondent, SP returner, and form analyst. He’s always sought out overpriced runners in handicap races, a quest that excites him as much now as it did at the start of his career.