EVEN though we’ve had Flat racing on turf for well over a month, the official start of the season is tomorrow.
Whatever you think about that, Newmarket’s Guineas Festival marks the true passing of the baton from National Hunt to Flat, and it promises to be an intriguing weekend.
The highlight of tomorrow’s card is the opening Classic of the season, the QIPCO 2000 Guineas (3.35pm).
Like with pretty much every major race over the next seven months, the first place to start has to be Aidan O’Brien.
Following last year’s world record 28 Group One wins, the master of Ballydoyle will be bidding to land his ninth 2000 Guineas tomorrow afternoon.
However, Saxon Warrior, the horse who was ante-post favourite throughout the winter, has been easy to back in recent days and is now 5/1 with Ladbrokes.
He was a good winner of the Group One Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster in October – sealing the record for O’Brien – but the vibes haven’t been strong.
The major worry with him is that he is likely to get outpaced, as a mile is surely going to be a bare minimum for this son of Deep Impact.
No bigger than 7/2 for next month’s Investec Derby, that looks to be his ideal target and I’m sure connections would be happy with a staying on fourth or fifth in this.
They shouldn’t be too concerned anyway because I think stablemate GUSTAV KLIMT will be the one to come home in front.
Admittedly, the Leopardstown 2000 Guineas Trial he ran in last month was only a Listed prize, but he got the job done on unsuitably heavy ground.
In recent years, O’Brien has tended to send his horses straight to the Guineas without a prep run, but with the distance of the trial being dropped from a mile to seven furlongs, he will surely use this new approach more often in the future.
Prior to that win, Gustav Klimt hadn’t been seen on a racecourse since a breathtaking performance in the Group Two Superlative Stakes on Newmarket’s July course last summer.
Ryan Moore found his passage blocked two furlongs out, but his mount still managed to quicken up, switch left and get up in the shadows of the post.
He was immediately promoted to Guineas favourite after that victory, although a setback meant he couldn’t run in the Dewhurst later in the season.
Leopardstown proved his well-being and he looks the bet at a general 5/2.
You have to go back 24 years for the last time Mark Johnston won this race with Mister Baileys, but he must have a good chance of ending that drought tomorrow.
No horse is better bred to be a Guineas winner than his ELARQAM.
His sire is the brilliant 2011 Guineas winner Frankel, while his dam, Attraction, won the fillies’ version for Johnston in 2004.
Unbeaten in two starts as a juvenile, you couldn’t wish for a horse with better credentials for the opening Classic of the campaign.
He will obviously have to improve on his two wins last autumn – a novice event at York in September and the Group Three Tattersalls on the Rowley Mile a few weeks later – but there’s every chance he can do that.
If there’s one small doubt, it’s that Frankel’s progeny have tended to be better over 10 furlongs than a mile, but he looks nailed on for a place at around the 11/2 mark.
MASAR was the most impressive winner to emerge from the trials after destroying his rivals in the Craven Stakes by nine lengths.
It’s true that he got the run of the race, but it’s never easy for any horse to win a Group race by such a big margin and he must be greatly respected.
Charlie Appleby has made an excellent start to the season and would love nothing more than to provide Sheikh Mohammed with a homegrown Godolphin Classic winner.
I can see Expert Eye reversing the Greenham form with James Garfield, although it still takes a leap of faith to back him after such a disappointing performance in the Dewhurst last October.
BILL ESDAILE’S QIPCO 2000 GUINEAS 1-2-3
1 GUSTAV KLIMT