The flat season hits full stride on Saturday as Newmarket hosts the 2000 Guineas over the hallowed Rowley Mile. The field may be the smallest for a generation, in terms of quality there can be no badmouthing. The number of long-term projects throughout the betting shows the depth to the small, but select field. Churchill was a standout juvenile, the majority of other runners are still relatively unknown and make for fascinating prospects, even if it turns it into a tricky betting proposition.
Churchill is clearly the horse to beat. His Dewhurst win stacks up as the best juvenile form and certainly the best 3YO form we’ve seen early on, with Blue Point’s win at Ascot being confirmed as a track record. Churchill wasn’t asked for much at Newmarket in October and it will take a vastly improving youngster to get by him. This is only if he’s on his game though: he’s had no prep run and we can only take Ballydoyle’s confidence as speculation. Aiden O’Brien has had a fairly quiet start to the spring, with Minding restoring some confidence with her rout last weekend. No form from any opposing horse in the field gets close to Churchill’s runs already in the book. The hope for an outsider comes from two angles. The ‘no preparation’ there’s ‘no way’ you can win camp and the ‘one of these three year olds could be anything.’ Both plausible and reasonable if fully thought out.
Eminent is the horse that fascinates me in the field. A small trainer (I say small in a complementary way) picked up this unsold son of Frankel at a cut down price of £140,000 and was reluctant to run him through his juvenile season. He exploded onto the scene once the Frankel hype had begun to die down in a strong looking Newmarket maiden and well and truly franked this back at HQ in the Craven. Still babyish he destroyed the field with a sweetly timed turn of foot. He has a huge frame and the time of the race was quick: the Rowley mile looks made for him. The price has shrunk since the Craven, as 16s halved to 8s; before 6/1 is as generous as you’ll be offered now. It may be short if you consider the talent of Churchill, combined with the unknown quantities that fill the field. If you’re brave and want to oppose Churchill with a straight to win vote, Eminent gets the tick on the ballot sheet here.
If you can’t see past Churchill but want to throw some EW money at the board, Godolphin’s Dream Castle at 16/1 gets the nod. Barney Roy got home cosily at Newbury, but for nine tenths of the race there looked only one winner. Dream Castle’s running style out in front was imposing and why the extra furlong may look the wrong way to go so soon after that, with a bit more company up top the other Frankel colt will certainly stay stronger when the going gets tough. The time of the Newbury run was very strong and the disparity in price between Dream Castle and Barney Roy has grown extortionately. The Godolphin pair both remain unknown quantities and why Richard Hannon remains upbeat over his Newbury winner, Dream Castle represents the sensible pick between the two at the prices.
Andre Fabre sends Al Wukair over with a storm of confidence behind him, saying he’s undoubtedly a ‘Newmarket horse.’ His Prix Djebel win was impressive, yet I’m not sure it matches up to some of the British form and certainly not to the wins Churchill notched up last season. Lancaster Bomber and Spirit of Valor would have to improve markedly to get in the money for Aiden O’Brien and James Tate is hopeful rather than expectant with 100/1 shot Law And Order. The Godolphin outsider, Top Score, looks set to take on a sacrificial role while Larchmont Lad also looks out of his depth (only demonstrating the depth of the field).
So you have to angles to approach the 2000 Guineas with. You either can’t see past Churchill, but might take some value with Dream Castle as a form of saver. Or you want to take O’Brien on with the romance of Frankel and Eminent. Which way you go is likely to already be decided. The race threw up Galileo Gold last season; this year, whoever the winner, I’m sure will go on to eclipse Al Shaqab’s star miler.