Racing Ahead

CLASSICS PREVIEW

Ian Heitmann on the contenders for 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas

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The obvious starting point when looking ahead to the first two Classics of the Flat season, the 2000 Guineas and 1000 Guineas, is to look at the entries from Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle stable as he has trained ten 2,000 Guineas winners and six 1,000 Guineas winners and, not surprising­ly, there are plenty of entries from the yard in both races.

2,000 Guineas

At the time of writing there were 72 horses entered in the 2,000 Guineas, O’Brien having 12 including three of the top four in the ante-post market. is currently the market leader and has reportedly had a good winter and developed into a strong three-year-old. He won two of his four starts last year including the Group 2 Vintage Stakes at Goodwood before faring best of the six European runners in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, finishing well to be second to Fire At Will who has been beaten twice since. Battlegrou­nd would be Aida O’Brien’s third 2000 Guineas winner who failed to win a Group 1 race at two, his last five winners in the race were all successful at the highest level as juveniles.

St Mark’s Basilica had three runs in Group 1 company last year, winning the last one, the Dewhurst Stakes over 7f at Newmarket in October when he beat stable companion Wembley by three quarters of length, the pair a length and three quarters in front of Thunder Moon. The Dewhurst win saw St Mark’s Basilica crowned Champion European Two-Year-Old for 2020 with a rating of 120, 2lb in front of Supremacy (winner of the Group 1 Middle Park and will be targeted at the Commonweal­th Cup at Royal Ascot) and Wembley. O’Brien has twice completed the Dewhurst/2,000 Guineas double, with Rock Of Gibraltar in 2001/2 and more recently in 2016/17 with Churchill who was also the Champion Two-YearOld of his year.

Thunder Moon beat Wembley and St Mark’s Basilica in the Group 1 National Stakes at the Curragh on just his second start overcoming trouble in running with a strong finish to win by a length and a half. He was sent off favourite for the Dewhurst and he had every chance to win with a furlong to go but his run flattened out inside the last half a furlong. He only had three runs last year, two of which came in Group 1 company and he should run well if the ground of on the quick side. The National Stakes winner has gone on to win the 2,000 Guineas six times since 2000 most recently Churchill in 2016/17.

Whereas Thunder Moon would prefer fast ground, Van Gogh, another of the Aidan O’Brien entries, would like it if the ground was soft or even heavy. He needed five races to get off the mark and finished his year with a

Group 1 win in France, the Criterium

Internatio­nal. The ground was very testing that day, but he drew clear of his five rivals to win by four lengths from a Group 3 winner, Normandy Bridge. Like a few horses with an entry in the 2000 Guineas, Van Gogh was given an entry in the Craven Stakes which took place after this was written.

High Definition is the only Aidan O’Brien entrant unbeaten, one of nine among the 72 who will be defending an unbeaten record when they next race. Both his wins were pretty remarkable, weaving through the field for the first in a maiden and finishing strongly on the outside of the field for the second, the Group 2 Beresford Stakes. He is the current favourite for the

Derby and could bypass the Guineas in favour of a Derby trial.

It would be a big surprise if any of the other Aidan O’Brien runners figured based on the form they have shown so far.

Charlie Appleby has yet to win the 2000 Guineas, Pinatubo finished third last year when odds on to extend his unbeaten record. He has six entered, One Ruler available at 12/1 the shortest in the betting. He has already shown a liking for the Rowley Mile comfortabl­y beating Van Gogh in a Group 3 in October, Akmaam running a fair ran in fifth on his second start. One Ruler was sent off favourite for the Group 1 Vertem Futurity at Doncaster later that month but found Mac Swiney too good inside the last furlong, beaten three

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Battlegrou­nd

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