Preview: 2000 Guineas

The wintry weather of the last couple of weeks has hardly got me into the mood for flat racing. I went to Punchestown on Wednesday and was greeted with a mix of sleet and hail – but hey, here we are, the first classic of the new season right in front of us! Madness!!!

Ground wise it seems Newmarket has done pretty well. It’s good to soft with a dry day expected and given that the Rowley Mile dries up quickly, we can expect fair conditions.

That’s particularly important for red-hot Guineas favourite Air Force Blue. Sure, he’s won on yielding ground before, but he’s also a son of War Front so is probably best on decent ground. That says the conditions today won’t be an issue, I reckon.

What is slightly puzzling is the fact that he’s fitted with a tongue-tie for the first time. Aiden O’Brien has done similar with other good horses in the past, so it’s not necessarily a negative, however it may also imply there is some sort of issue with his breathing.

I personally am not a fan of tongue-ties; sure they don’t look nice on the eye, but – without knowing for a fact myself since I’m not a horse – horses generally don’t enjoy them is the saying from horsemen I trust.

Look, it’s probably all fine and well with him, the vibes are positive anyway and it’s just some assistance Aiden thinks Air Force Blue benefits from on the ground today. Given he’s the best horse in the race on all form we know, it is very hard, if not impossible to oppose him.

That says he is a short price. Rightly so, one can argue. Or not? You can never be quite sure if these beasts really train on until you see them race again. At 4/6 – or whatever he is right now, I’m prepared to take him on with something bigger.

SO: Who else can make a race of it? Racing Post Trophy winner Marcel must be in the discussion. He doesn’t mind cut in the ground and has improved nicely throughout his juvenile season. Truth told though, he was a bit lucky at Doncaster on the day. Whether the form flatters him or not, it leaves me with doubts.

Frankie and Hugo Palmer have been bullish about Galileo Gold. He was supposed to run in the French Guineas, but he’s been wintering and working so well, he’s been re-routed to Newmarket. I can see why. He looks bound to improve as a three year old and showed plenty of promise last season. He’s a son of my all-time favourite Paco Boy – he’ll run a fine if he handles the track.

Will Buratino get the mile? This precocious, speedy juvenile is not sure to have found much improvement over the winter. I find it hard to make a case for him, given he looks more like a sprinter without much scope and definite stamina doubts.

Much more of interest is recent Craven Stakes winner Stormy Antarctic. An excellent runner-up in the Group 1 Criterium International when last seen as a two year old, he looked mightily impressive landing the Craven a fortnight ago. He’s no mug but would clearly prefer the rain clouds to return. Drying ground is a slight concern.

Lightly raced Masaat finished second behind Air Force Blue in the Dewhurst. With a bit of improvement over the winter he should be right there when it matters, given he’s proven to handle this track – with the only question mark the trip. He’s to prove his stamina and I’m worried he’s not getting home.

Aiden O’Brien’s second string Air Vice Marshal is clearly an exciting prospect. Lightly raced, maybe not quite seen to best effect in the Superlative Stakes, he should develop into a nice three year old.The step up in trip is clearly in his favour, though whether the ground is fast enough for him to be seen to best effect is the big question mark.

Jim Bolger has proven in the past that he can get horses ready for the first classic. His Herald The Dawn, a full-brother to 2013 Guineas hero Dawn Approach, didn’t quite fulfill the early promise in the latter part of his juvenile season. But it’s fair to believe he could be a better three year old.

I like the fact that Ribchester has already a run under his belt this season, albeit I’m not sure what to make of it. Hanging badly in France earlier this month, he was subsequently demoted from second to fifth. The step up to a mile poses no problem for him, whether he is good enough is the question.

Verdict: It is probably not wise to oppose Air Force Blue, who looks the real deal on anything we know. He’s as short in the betting as he should be on all we know. However if you’re like me, trying to get these shorties beat, you can find some reasons to do so here. For me it’s the tongue-tie. I’m puzzled why this one would be applied if there isn’t a slight concern about his breathing.

From the bigger prices I’m intrigued by his stable mate Air Vice Marshal who cost a fortune as a yearling and could be much better than what we have seen from him as a two year old. This here might not be the race to see him to best effect, he may need the run and does probably need faster ground. At 40/1 he’s worth a shot nonetheless.

I’m stuck with Herrald The Dawn too. I punted him ante-post roughly eight months ago at 40/1. Doesn’t look all that smart today – it’s the same price you can get this morning. Shows this lad hasn’t improved in the expected way from the moment on I backed him. But as mentioned before there is good reason to believe he has scope to be better this year. The Guineas is his target and if he can find a couple of pounds – he will have to if he wants to feature – I can see him going close.

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