Gear Up For The Guineas

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Racing enthusiast’s eyes will be focused firmly on the Curragh this weekend as the first Classics of the Irish season take centre stage. There is no shortage of quality colts and fillies for these races with the familiar names of O’Brien, Bolger, and Weld all set to be represented.

2000 Guineas Preview

This race is normally the first big domestic target for every trainer with quality a three-year-old colt or filly. The 1-mile contest takes place on the Curragh racecourse aka Irish HQ and has a prize fund of €400,000.

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Last year’s contest went to Churchill, who in the process added the Irish Guineas to the English Guineas he had secured some 21 days prior. The master of Ballydoyle Aidan O’Brien trained Churchill to these two classic victories which supplemented his two wins at Group One level as a juvenile in the National Stakes and the Dewhurst. So Aidan is the logical starting point when trying to pick this year’s winner.

In fact, Aidan has won six of the last ten renewals of the race with some familiar faces such as Henrythenavigator(2008), Power(2012) and Gleneagles(2015). This year he seems to have two very strong candidates to claim the prize in the form of Gustav Klimt and U S Navy Flag.

Gustav Klimt

Breeding: Galileo ex Massarra

Trainer: Aidan O’Brien

Owner: Mrs John Magnier, Michael Tabor & Derrick Smith)

The Galileo colt had a rather inauspicious start to his career dwelling at the start and running quite green to finish fifth of nine in a Curragh maiden. Fast forward two runs and he has won his maiden rather cosily and battled all the way to the line to clinch a thrilling Superlative Stakes at Newmarket.

A victory in the 2000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown looked the perfect start to his three-year-old campaign with the English Guineas firmly in his sights. Gustav Klimt ran well to finish a never dangerous sixth behind stablemate Saxon Warrior.

This experience at Group One level will make Gustav Klimt a leading contender to bring yet another 2000 Guineas back to Ballydoyle.

U S Navy Flag

Breeding: War Front ex Misty For Me

Trainer: Aidan O’Brien

Owner: Derrick Smith, Mrs John Magnier & Michael Tabor

The much raced U S Navy Flag is bred to be top drawer, his dam is the high-class mare Misty For Me who won four Group Ones including the Irish 1000 Guineas. He is also a full brother to the three-time Group One winner Roly Poly.

These are quite big footprints to follow but U S Navy Flag has already added two Group Ones to his CV and was crowned last year’s champion two-year-old which further enhances this brilliant breeding line. As a two-year-old, he seemed to thrive on racing and those who fancy him to win the Guineas will be banking on this also being the case this season.

U S Navy Flag’s three-year-old campaign began with a fifteen length beating at the hand of Gustav Klimt at Leopardstown, this was followed by a foray to France where an improved performance saw him finish three lengths behind Olmedo in the Group One Poule d’Essai des Poulains.

Still, it’s hard to see this form being strong enough to win what looks like a strong renewal of the 2000 Guineas, even with the somewhat surprising assistance of Ryan Moore in the saddle.

Zihba

Breeding: Choisir ex Fancy Vivid

Trainer: Fozzy Stack

Owner: Al Shaqab Racing

Zihba’s route to the Guineas has been somewhat unusual, the Choisir colt won his only start as a two-year-old at Dundalk only three days before Christmas. A second visit to the all-weather track on seasonal debut resulted in another victory beating a horse that broke their maiden off a rating of 79 recently.

Steady progression but hardly Guineas form. It was his final start that earmarked Zihba as a potential Guineas horse though when put in a very smart display against his elders in the Group Three Amethyst Stakes at Leopardstown. This victory made it three wins from as many starts and the colts first on turf.

Zihba has since been purchased by Al Shaqab Racing and it would seem that they now have a live chance of winning Ireland’s first classic of the season.

Elarqam

Breeding: Frankel ex Attraction

Trainer: Mark Johnston

Owner: Hamdan Al Maktoum

Last but most certainly not least we come to Elarqam. The phrase “well-bred” is used quite frequently within the equine industry but few can claim to be better bred than Elarqam. The three-year-old colt is by the wonder horse Frankel and out of multiple Group One-winning mare Attraction.

Elarqam and Gustav Klimt have already clashed this season in the English 2000 Guineas where Mark Johnston’s charge finished some one and a half lengths ahead of his rival. That run was only his third lifetime start and first of the season.

Allowing for normal progression from his seasonal debut coupled with the enormous potential that Elarqam possesses, he is surely the one to beat come 4:10 on Saturday.

Selection: Elarqam    Outsider: Zhiba

1000 Guineas Preview

The 1000 Guineas is the feature race at the Curragh on Sunday. This prestigious race has been won by some fantastic fillies over the years, with the likes of Winter(2017), Misty For Me(2011) and Finsceal Beo(2007) all previous winners of this one-mile Group One classic.

Aidan O’Brien again holds leading claims of winning this with both Happily and Clemmie set to represent the maestro of Ballydoyle.

Happily

Breeding: Galileo ex You’resothrilling

Trainer: Aidan O’Brien

Owner: Derrick Smith, Mrs John Magnier & Michael Tabor

Happily was last season’s champion two-year-old filly and is a hot favourite to give Aidan back to back victories in the 1000 guineas, having won last year’s contest with Winter. Happily was a dual Group One winner as a two-year-old which included a victory in the Moyglare Stakes at the Curragh.

She was sent off favourite in the English 1000 Guineas at Newmarket on seasonal debut but had to settle for third behind shock winner Billesdon Brook. This was still a very respectable run and with course form, at Group One level along with this run under her belt, she will be very hard to beat.

Clemmie

Breeding: Galileo ex Meow

Trainer: Aidan O’Brien

Owner: Derrick Smith, Mrs John Magnier & Michael Tabor

Clemmie had a very progressive and likeable campaign as a two-year-old. She was unlucky not to win her maiden on debut at the Curragh, such was her reputation Aidan sent the full sister to Churchill straight to Royal Ascot for the Albany.

For a filly with such little experience, she ran very well to finish under five lengths behind the French filly and now stablemate Different League. She duly shed her maiden tag in a Group Three event at the Curragh and got her revenge over Different League on her final start of the season in the Group One Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket.

We have yet to see Clemmie this season and Aidan O’Brien said this week “We’re looking at running Clemmie on Sunday but she’s just ready to start back and we think she’ll come forward a lot from the run”.

There are a lot of quality fillies set to go to post for this contest; Laurens finished runner-up in the English 1000 Guineas and will be looking to uphold placings with Happily who has half a length to find with Karl Burkes filly.

Other fillies to note are Soliloquay who finished sixth in the English 1000 Guineas, the progressive Who’s Steph and the well-bred Chiara Luna for Dermot Weld.

Selection: Clemmie    Outsider: Chiara Luna

There is some quality racing on the undercard of both meetings at the Curragh. On Saturday the Group Two Greenlands Stakes will be fast and furious, as some very decent sprinters do battle. This race has historically been a happy hunting ground for English trainers with six of the last 10 renewals going across the Irish Sea. Last year veteran Gordon Lord Byron rolled back the clock to spring a 20/1 surprise for trainer Tom Hogan. This time around it would seem that Aidan O’Brien will put up the biggest resistance to the English challengers in the form of Spirit of Valor.

The war front colt is likely to appreciate hearing his hooves rattle off the forecasted Good To Firm ground at the Curragh

Selection: Spirit of Valor    Outsider: Son Of Rest

The Tattersalls Gold Cup looks set to be the perfect appetiser to the 1000 Guineas on Sunday, with the one-mile two-furlong contest attracting a small but quality field. In reality, the race looks like a match between Derby runner-up Cliffs of Moher and the Roger Varian trained Defoe.

Both horses have run twice this season with Cliffs of Moher regaining the winning thread last time out in a Group Two at Naas, having gone seven runs without a victory previously. It’s said that winning is a habit and Defoe certainly has developed this habit, having won both starts this season in impressive fashion at Newbury and Newmarket.

Selection: Defoe    Outsider: Success Days

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