With the Cheltenham Festival and the Randox Health Grand National now firmly in the rear window, the only major Jumps Festival remaining is the Punchestown Festival in Ireland.
Thus, domestically in Britain, the flat season will begin to take centre stage. With that in mind, here's a little ante-post analysis of the first two British Classics of the season, the QIPCO 2000 and 1000 Guineas, run at Newmarket on May 6 and May 7 2017.
QIPCO 2000 Guineas - Churchill looks hard to beat.
The market for the 2000 Guineas is headed by Aidan O'Brien's Churchill (6/4 favourite). A winner of five of his six starts to date, the three-year-old son of Galileo was successful in two Group One events on his last two starts. He was an easy winner four and a half-length winner of the G1 Goffs Vincent O'Brien National Stakes at the Curragh, before he justified 8/11 favouritism to win the G1 Dubai Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket in October.
On the latter occasion, O'Brien's charge had trouble in running but once he hit top gear, the Irish-bred gelding asserted smartly in the closing stages to win by a length and a quarter. The step up in trip to one mile will certainly suit the strapping colt and he has showed that he can handle the Rowley Mile and all the undulations that come with the iconic track at HQ. A general 6/4 favourite, he is a worthy market leader.
O'Brien has confirmed that his charge will head straight to Newmarket. That shouldn't concern punters as Churchill has already partaken in a racecourse gallop at Naas with 80 other horses, whilst Gleneagles, winner of the 2015 renewal of the Classic, also did not have a prep run. He is the one to beat but at such a short price, it could pay to wait until the day of the race and see if the bookies push the favourite, as they did when Gleneagles returned the 4/1 favourite having been much shorter in the weeks leading up to the race.
One of the main dangers to Churchill emerged this week in the shape of Andre Fabre's Al Wukair (5/1). He produced a stylish performance in the Prix Djebel at Maisons-Lafitte on Monday to account for G1 winner National Defense and he looks a potent contender for Fabre, no stranger to 2000 Guineas success, having saddled Zafonic (1993) and Pennekamp (1995). He looks sure to excel stepped up to a mile and represents powerful connections.
Churchill looks set to be joined at Newmarket by a host of stable companions. They might include sprinting superstar Caravaggio (10/1), who romped to victory in the G2 Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot in June. O'Brien has described him as one of the fastest horses he has trained. Thus, the step up to a mile might not necessarily be in his favour, but he would be a fascinating contender if he lined up.
I was at Glorious Goodwood when War Decree (16/1) justified strong support in the G2 Qatar Vintage Stakes to score by a length and three-quarters. He looks another who will enjoy the step up to a mile and he came clear of his rivals in taking fashion that day. Not seen since, he could be an interesting each way proposition for the Ballydoyle maestro.
Thunder Snow, subsequently fourth to Churchill in the Dewhurst, before winning the G1 Criterium International at Saint-Cloud and the UAE Derby at Meydan on Dubai World Cup, was second to War Decree that day, giving the form a strong look and I think it would be folly to write off War Decree. Thunder Snow represents Saeed bin Suroor and is a general 25/1 chance for the Guineas.
O'Brien also has Orderofthegarter (16/1) and Cliffs Of Moher (20/1) towards the top of the betting. The former won a Listed event at Leopardstown on Saturday, readily accounting for his stable mate Taj Mahal in the 2000 Guineas Trial, suggesting there could be more to come from him.
Comparably, Cliffs Of Moher is a classic unknown quantity who was a pleasing fifth on his debut at Cork before slamming the aforementioned Orderofthegarter by five and a half-lengths at Leopardstown in a maiden in October.
He has the look of O'Brien's Racing Post Trophy winner Kingsbarns about him, in which both horses have won maidens before a tilt at a Group One without another run. He is of interest at a price but it's difficult to ascertain how good he could he be.
Among the British contingent, Swiss Storm is the shortest in the betting at 16/1 for David Elsworth. He was well touted last year and won a Newbury maiden on his second start by a length and a quarter, beating a subsequent winner (City Of Joy).
The three-year-old son of Frankel has subsequently seen Godolphin join Lordship Stud as the owners of the colt and he put the race to bed nicely at Newbury, staying on strongly under Jim Crowley. His future could lie over further as he already has an entry in the Dante but like so many runners, he is unexposed after two runs and he has to go into the 'could be anything' category.
Other horses worth a quick mention include Cracksman (25/1), who runs in the same colours as 2015 Derby hero Golden Horn for trainer John Gosden and who stayed on powerfully to make a winning debut at Newmarket in October, whilst Saeed bin Suroor also has Dream Castle (25/1), a son of Frankel who was strikingly impressive when routing the field at Doncaster earlier this month by three and a half-lengths. He showed a potent turn of foot and is another to consider.
I think this could be Aidan O'Brien's race. Churchill is a worthy favourite and looks tough to beat. I might wait till the day before backing him in the hope he drifts out slightly from a best priced 6/4 currently, so at 16/1, I'll also have a dabble on stable companion War Decree at this stage. I was impressed with him at Glorious Goodwood and there should be more to come from him.
Churchill - 6/4
War Decree - 16/1 Each Way
QIPCO 1000 Guineas - Rhododendron to blossom.
Aidan O'Brien also has a strong hand in the QIPCO 1000 Guineas, run on Sunday, May 7. The market leader for this year's renewal is Rhododendron (7/2) and she deserves her place at the top of the market after producing an impressive display in the G1 Dubai Fillies' Mile at Newmarket in October. Under Ryan Moore, the filly showed an impressive turn of foot to come clear of her rivals by two and a quarter-lengths.
The horse she beat that day, Hydrangea, a 14/1 shot for the 1000 Guineas won at Leopardstown on Saturday, franking the form in no uncertain terms. Rhododendron is a daughter of Galileo and Halfway To Heaven, two of O'Brien's finest middle distance champions and she should improve with age. She was really impressive at HQ last time and having showed she handles the track, I strongly fancy her to follow stable companion Minding and provide O'Brien with back-to-back victories in the fillies Classic.
Both horses mentioned were behind Joseph O'Brien's Intricately (14/1) in the G1 Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh in September but she has since disappointed at the Breeders Cup and on her reappearance at Leopardstown.
Fair Eva (10/1) was impressive in a G3 event at Ascot in July but was arguably disappointing in tow subsequent runs when turned over at short prices in both the G2 Lowther Stakes at York and the G2 Shadwell Rockfel Stakes at Newmarket in September. Apparently she has wintered well but she needs to show that she will appreciate the step up in trip to a mile, which judged on her breeding, she should be able to handle. However, she has shown early pace in her runs this year and I think better each way value lies elsewhere.
At York, she was beaten by Queen Kindly (20/1), another daughter of Frankel . However, she was a well beaten fourth in the G1 Cheveley Park at Newmarket in September over six furlongs and I'm not sure whether she is likely to enjoy a mile trip.
Charlie Appleby's Wuheida would have had a strong chance in this race but sadly misses the race due to injury. She was an impressive winner of the G1 Prix Marcel Boussac at Chantilly on Arc day. She beat Aidan O'Brien's Promise To Be True (33/1) decisively that day with John Gosden's Dabyah (16/1) third, highlighting how decent that form could turn out to be.
At a price however, I'm keen on Michael Halford's Rehana (25/1). Whilst her profile is not the most attractive, she beat Rhododendron in a maiden event at the Curragh in June, before finishing fourth in the G1 Moyglare Stud Stakes in September. She made a pleasing reappearance at Leopardstown in the 1000 Guineas Trial last weekend and will improve enormously for that run. At a price, she is interesting.
Others to consider are Sea Of Grace (16/1) who won his last two starts for John Oxx and has now joined William Haggas, Talaayeb (16/1), successful in a Newmarket maiden for Owen Burrows and Andrew Balding's Poet's Vanity (20/1), who won by a length in a G3 at Newmarket in October. Senga (20/1) represents Pascal Bary and has one win to her name in three career starts.
The 1000 Guineas does look very open with a host of unexposed horses coming to the fore. However, I'm keen to go for the horses with proven form in the book. Rhododendron was impressive in the Fllies' Mile and she could win this before going on to even better things. For each way purposes, Rehana should improve for her comeback run and is good value.
Rhododendron - 7/2
Rehana - 25/1 Each Way
Words By: Danny Archer