It is a classic weekend at Newmarket with the 2000 and 1000 Guineas the highlights of the Saturday and Sunday cards at flat racing HQ plus the final day of the Punchestown Festival in Ireland meaning fans of both codes are catered for.
A wide open nine-furlong handicap gets the ITV action underway at Newmarket.
Bell Rock was third in the Cambridgeshire last season and looks well treated with William Carvers valuable 5lb claim while Bright Melody represents Godolphin and comes here on the back of a win at Meydan in the Dubai Carnival at the end of February. He was put up 5lb for that success and his season never really took off last year so will have needed to have progressed to defy this mark.
Maydanny won at Glorious Goodwood last summer but was well held in two subsequent starts and resumes 10lb higher than that success while Starcat ran in last year’s 2000 Guineas on just his second start but never really threatened to win throughout his 3yo campaign.
A chance is taken with MASCAT. Ralph Beckett’s charge won his maiden as a 2yo on the Rowley Mile after a debut second to Palace Pier and ran consistently well off marks in the high 80s as a 3yo. He came on for his Doncaster reappearance when running subsequent winner Zabeel Champion close at Ripon and a 2lb rise looks lenient. Factor in Laura Pearson’s 5lb claim he will be hard to kick out of the frame and is just a matter of time before he wins again off his mark.
A smaller field than usual for this burn up and there will be no hiding place with Glamorous Anna likely to blaze a trail from stall three.
There are plenty of closers who will enjoy having the pace to aim at, chief among them Lazuli. He was slightly disappointing at Meydan when odds on favourite and missed World Cup night as a result. He is penalised for his Group 3 win at Newbury last September and is worth taking on in my view. Garrus should turn Newbury form around with Came From The Dark on 4lb better terms in this step up form handicap company, while Emaraaty Ana was in front at the furlong pole in the 6f Abernant Stakes here at the last meeting and won his maiden over five furlongs.
He should go well but JUDICIAL has been runner-up in this event twice in the last three runnings and goes well after a break. His form figures when returning from more than 80 days off are 1172712 and is joint best in on the figures too. This prize headed north in 2018 and 2019 and can head back to Julie Camacho’s North Yorkshire base in 2021.
Just the five go to post for the Group 2 Jockey Club Stakes with only three yards represented.
William Haggas saddles a pair in Al Zaraqaan and Pablo Escobarr. Al Zaraqaan made it four on the spin in the Rosebery at Kempton last month in taking fashion, the runner-up is favourite for the Chester Cup next week after winning since but this is a step up to Group company and a return to turf so a couple of questions to answer on that front. Pablo Escobarr meanwhile was becoming a frustrating type before getting his head in front at Glorious Goodwood last summer. He was well held in the Ebor but was a close third in a small field on the July Course last year and Tom Marquand has been on fire since returning from Australia.
Another pair are saddled by Mark Johnston who won this with Communique in 2019 and Universal Order in 2013. Thunderous won last year’s post Debry Dante but was well held at Sandown just last week. It’s interesting they bring him out so quickly suggesting nothing was amiss and have booked Ryan Moore to ride. A safer conveyance though must be Sir Ron Priestley, who missed all his 4yo career after signing off with a St Leger second to Logician. He showed no ill effects when scoring from Sagaro Stakes runner-up Ocean Wind at Nottingham in the Listed Further Flight Stakes, pulling clear in the closing stages. The drop in trip and the dreaded ‘bounce’ factor are slight concerns, but he could be a major player in the cup races this year.
PYLEDRIVER is making his seasonal reappearance but was campaigned at the highest level all last season, including third in the St Leger when giving up numerous lengths when hanging before a below par seventh in the Champion Stakes at Ascot. He has won at the Royal meeting and the Great Voltigeur under a penalty at York and trainer William Muir made sure everyone knew he was the best horse he had ever trained. He is entered in the Coronation Cup at Epsom, although the contours didn’t suit him in last year's Derby and he may well be saved for the Royal meeting once again. However, I’m siding with him to make a wining seasonal debut in a race where has upwards of 7lb in hand on the figures.
The QIPCO 2000 Guineas. Classic by name, classic by nature, with fifteen of the best three-year-old milers in the world clashing on Newmarket’s famous Rowley Mile.
Aidan O’Brien has won the race ten times, including five of the last nine and saddles three so let us start with those.
Wembley was well backed midweek when Ryan Moore looked likely to ride him. He signed off his juvenile campaign with a Dewhurst Stakes second to stablemate St Mark’s Basilica but does just have a Roscommon maiden victory to his name despite numerous seconds at Group level. Battleground was winter favourite after the son of the super mare Found won at Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood before a good third at the Breeder’s Cup. He was a big youngster and always looked like a three-year-old last year, so should have developed into his frame over the winter. There were noises though he would not be turning up, so it is interesting the dice is being rolled and Frankie Dettori has been booked. The third member is Van Gogh, who won a Group 1 at Saint Cloud in October and was second to One Ruler in the Autumn Stakes over track and trip. Rule him out your peril. All of Aidan O’Brien’s recent 2000 Guineas winners were making their seasonal debuts.
Joseph O’Brien is a chip off the old block and is destined for more great success than his fledgling training career has already provided. Thunder Moon showed incredible turn of foot to win the National Stakes at the Curragh last year but was only third in the Dewhurst behind Wembley. He has only had three starts though and is open to so much improvement after a winter break.
You have to go back to 2014 and Night Of Thunder to find the last horse to win the Guineas after a prep run, but I am sticking with the unbeaten MUTASAABEQ. He was supplemented at a cost of £30k on Monday, has won both starts at the track on heavy and good ground and should see out the mile being by 1000 Guineas heroine Ghanaati. He was keen last time but put six lengths between himself and his rivals at the line. He is well drawn in 12 to track the pace which will help him settle and proven handling of the track is almost essential nowadays.
One Ruler is rumoured to have wintered well but was overlooked by William Buick for Craven winner Master Of The Seas while Chindit won the Greenham but flopped here in the Autumn in the Dewhurst. Was that the soft ground or the track? That is a question he will answer on Saturday afternoon.
The sole race at beautiful Goodwood in front of the TV cameras is a one mile listed filles’ contest.
Lilac Road made all to win a small field conditions contest at Kempton four weeks ago in a time similar to Amniarix on the same card. Lilac Road carries 13lb less though as one of two 3yo’s in the race and is comfortably top rated at the revised weights although the rating may flatter her. Pholas won on AW finals day and is chasing a hat-trick but needs to prove herself on turf after two poor efforts on the surface.
Maamora and AGINCOURT are both rated the same on 108 but I feel Agincourt has done a lot more to earn that figure. Her second to Nazeef at Royal Ascot last year is head and shoulders above the other form on show and a reproduction of that after a winter wind operation should see her go close. She has been given a good break since well beaten in the G3 Oak Tree Stakes at this course last summer and can benefit from that.
Maamora meanwhile signed off last year wining the G3 Atalanta Stakes from the front and may end up in a battle on the lead with Lilac Road.
The Thirsk Hunt Cup is always a competitive contest with a shot of southern trainers looking to take this decent prize from the north, something that as only happened twice in the last nine runnings.
Nugget won a shade cosily from the form runners at Newbury a fortnight ago and a 5lb rise may underestimate his improvement. He is only 1lb better off with Astro King though for a Nottingham reverse on seasonal debut so Sir Michael Stoute’s charge is weighted to confirm the form.
The draw is all important at Thirsk, as being trapped out wide on the only bend is a disadvantage, so Nugget does have the better of that aspect in stall four, while Richard Kingscote will need to work out a passage from stall 11.
Tom Collins is an intriguing runner for William Haggas. He returns 5lb higher than when winning at Pontefract on his final start for David Elsworth but has been given stall 13. PJ McDonald has plenty of experience tough at Thirsk and if he can extricate a trip from out wide, he is a danger.
I am backing ACQUITTED though for Hugo Palmer and Callum Shepherd. He chased home Palace Pier on his first start as a three-year-old but failed to beat a rival in two starts subsequently. He clearly benefitted from a break though and was just denied having looked the winner all the way in the Spring Mile at Doncaster. The winner has bolted in since a just a solitary pound rise and a good berth in stall five rates this 4yo as a leading candidate. Shepherd rode a double at the course earlier in the season too, which is another tick in the box due to the tricky nature of the track.
The Mares Champion Hurdle has been dominated by Willie Mullins, landing six of the last seven runnings. He saddles a host for this year’s renewal headed by Cheltenham second Concertista. There is no doubt she sets the standard on her runs this year over a trip she stays well. She is likely to be hard to beat as favourite, but I quite like the claims of stable companion BURNING VICTORY. She hasn’t been seen since winning what turned out to be a fairly decent renewal of the Triumph Hurdle, and we saw Klassical Dream come out this week and win off an over 400 day absence from the yard, so any market support should be heeded.
Stormy Ireland bounced back to winning ways on her first start since returning to Closutton but she stole that race for me form the front and may have competition for the lead, while Laurina is interesting having lost her way and left Paul Nicholls, having her first start for Cormac Farrell.
Skyace was the subject of the utmost confidence from trainer Shark Hanlon when she landed her G1 at Fairyhouse and we should take his comments on board about the novice, should they be positive once again.
The final Grade 1 of the week is the Juvenile Hurdle with the ‘big two’ from the Triumph Hurdle, Quilixios and Zanahiyr clashing again.
It did not quite work out as expected at Cheltenham with Zanahiyr failing to fire, but it’s been a testing week for Henry De Bromhead, failing to have a winner on the first three days and perhaps Denise Foster’s charge can turn the form around with a speed test perhaps more in his favour. Quiixios has won at Punchestown but the speed of flat bred Zanahiyr could be a telling factor.
It is far from a two-horse race though with Fred Winter winner Jeff Kidder, who followed up in Grade 2 company at Fairyhouse, also a major player, alongside the Willie Mullins trained pair of Haut De Couleurs (third in Triumph ahead of Zanahiyr) and Saint Sam (weighted to reverse form with Jeff Kidder on 14lb better terms for two lengths).