Last year a quirk of the calendar meant that there was a gap of a week between the running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Louisville, in the USA and England's famed classic, the Qipco-sponsored 2000 Guineas run over the Rowley Mile in Newmarket. In 2012, matters return to normal – with the classics for three-year-olds on both sides of the Atlantic being contested a few hours apart on the first Saturday in May, which this year falls on the fifth day of the month.
At the time of writing, 22 have accepted for the 2000 Guineas, which is scheduled to be flagged off at 3:10 p.m. BST. However, the field is sure to be smaller as Godolphin intend scratching their two acceptors and there may be other defections as well. Unlike last year when the odds-on favourite, the great Frankel, triumphed, this year there is no real standout. In fact, most of the leading prospects were rated within 5 points of each other in Timeform's "Top 100".
What's more, the ground will have a key role to play in deciding the fate of the handsome trophy, as England has been having one of the wettest Aprils on record. For the welfare of agriculture and livestock, this has been something of a boon since the southwest corner of the country had been suffering from near-drought conditions. The rain is supposed to ease, and the saturated conditions abate, by the time of the race, and the Clerk of the Course has raised the possibility of "good going", although it is more likely to be soft. We are after all talking about England, notorious for its fickle weather!
In most years, Ireland's powerhouse operation, Coolmore, field live challengers for this event and this year is no different as trainer Aidan O'Brien has left in three candidates for the honours. Favoured at as low as evens in some places, but more generally at 6 to 4, is the Racing Post Trophy winner Camelot (Montjeu – Tarfah, by Kingmambo), who is unbeaten from 2 starts at 2, and has been described by his trainer as "super intelligent, a super quick-thinker".
However, some notes of caution: half a dozen of the favourites for this race in the last few years have finished off the board! What's more, O'Brien is keenly aware that a Guineas run may set back a talented runner bred for longer – as it did a couple of years ago with his St. Nicholas Abbey (like Camelot a son of Montjeu that had won the Racing Post Trophy). So the colt may not even run. Also, Camelot has not been seen in public for 196 days. Even longer – 210 days – has been the absence of Power (Oasis Dream – Frappe, by Inchinor), but that runner provides more value at a best-priced 14 to 1, even though he has yet to prove himself at a mile.
For one, he is vastly more experienced (6 starts) than his stablemate; for another, he has experience of racing at Newmarket (close runner-up last year in the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes), is bred for the job and has never been out of one-two. If any of the Ballydoyle trio is to give his handler a sixth win in this race (in 14 years), it could be Power, as the Irish ace's third runner, Furner's Green (Dylan Thomas – Lady Icarus, by Rainbow Quest) is not considered a threat by the market – he is available at 40 to 1 – despite some good current form.
The colt to whom Power lost that definitive juvenile test, the Dewhurst, is also in the field and is likewise schooled across the Irish Sea. Parish Hall (Teofilo – Halla Siamsa, by Montjeu), a home-bred for the canny Jim Bolger, is another that has not been seen this season, but as everyone knows, that is no real handicap in Europe since many a trainer has proved adept at producing his or her charge on the day at the required fitness level. However, there has been some suggestion that the colt's real target is one of the Derbies, which is why he is at 14 to 1 here. It may be recalled that the same trainer's New Approach took in the 2000 Guineas (he was beaten a nostril by Henrythenavigator) en route to victory in the Epsom Derby of 2008.
Yet another country-mate of the aforementioned quartet is the John Oxx-trained Born To Sea, a three-parts brother to none other than the mighty Sea The Stars! The son of Invincible Spirit – Urban Sea (by Miswaki), not seen since last October, is lightly raced, with a win and a runner-up effort (when he finished lame) to his credit so far. On sheer bloodlines, a lot is clearly expected of this colt, as his 8 to 1 quote would suggest; three-year-olds like him can improve drastically in a short period of time.
Another of the 2009 crop about which there are strong hopes of dramatic improvement is the once-raced maiden winner Top Offer (Dansili – Zante, by Zafonic), sporting the same Prince Khalid Abdullah silks as last year's champion Frankel, though trained by Roger Charlton. He would not be in the field without some smart works under his belt, and the 10 to 1 on offer is indicative of the high esteem in which he is held. That said, the last winner of just one race to triumph in the "2000", after such a major class hike, was Golan way back in 2001.
Other British hopes, with successful reappearances under their belt, are the winners of some of the recognized classic trials this spring. The Novae Bloodstock Insurance Craven Stakes over the same course and distance as the "2000" was run on April 19th and threw up a decisive winner in Trumpet Major (by Arakan – Ashford Cross, by Cape Cross) who sauntered home by 5 lengths. Ridden on that occasion by Ryan Moore, the Richard Hannon-trained colt will be reunited with Richard Hughes, the pair having teamed up to annex the One Call Insurance Champagne Stakes at Doncaster last term. 10 to 1 can be had about their chances. Hannon also fields Greenham Stakes-placed Bronterre (Oasis Dream – Wondrous Story, by Royal Academy), whom his stable feels is not far behind in ability. Jamie Spencer has been booked for the 33 to 1 chance.
The winner of that Greenham Stakes, run at Newbury over 7 furlongs on April 21st, was the game Caspar Netscher (Dutch Art – Bella Cantata, by Singspiel) who put in a career-best effort on the soft ground that prevailed that day. If the conditions suit, Alan McCabe's ward could provide the proverbial fairy-tale ending. "He has been in good form since Newbury and he did it nicely that day - I'm happy with him….We are going into unknown territory in regards to trip, but we are going there in very good nick and Shane Kelly will ride", said McCabe.
Runners exiting the Group 3 Prix Djebel at Maisons-Laffitte in France, namely the winner of that race, French Fifteen (Turtle Bowl – Spring Morning, by Ashkalani), available here at 12 to 1, his regular rival Abtaal (Rock Hard Ten – Appealing Storm, by Valid Appeal), for whom there has been significant recent support down to 9 to 1, and Hermival (Dubawi – Bibi Karam, by Persian Bold), now at 25 to 1, constitute the Gallic challenge, last successful a couple of years ago with Makfi. Incidentally, Hermival has a pair of younger brothers in India, their dam having been imported by the Bakhtawar Stud & Agricultural Farm in late January of 2010.
In the final analysis, the going and odds near starting time will provide the best guide to the identity of the winner. At this distance of time it appears that Power – for place – could well be a better bet than Camelot – for win – at a similar price. There is too much to put the last-named outside his comfort zone (first start abroad, potentially first start on softish ground, risk of being caught flat-footed by speedier rivals in view of his stamina-oriented pedigree) for one to be sanguine about his chances though he certainly is the class horse of the race.