Best of British
Too Darn Hot had sat happily atop the betting for the first British Classic for much of the off-season, with many predicting a victory in the 2000 Guineas would simply be a walk in the park. Sadly, for John Gosden, Frankie Dettori and owner, Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Too Darn Hot picked up a knock during preparations for his intended reappearance in the Greenham Stakes and the former favourite has been forced out of the Guineas.
This omission has blown the 2000 Guineas betting wide-open, leaving William Haggas' Skardu (13/2 William Hill) as the highest-placed British entrant in the current market. James Doyle gave this son of Shamardal an excellent ride in the Craven, striking late to preserve his unbeaten record. Skardu's odds were subsequently slashed in the Guineas betting and there's obviously plenty more improvement left to come. Whether this year's renewal of the Craven was as strong as the one won by Masar 12 months ago, I highly doubt, but Skardu has to be in with a shout.
Royal Marine (7/1 Ladbrokes) was backed into favouritism for the Craven, as Saeed Bin Suroor's charge looked to bounce back from a disappointing outing in Dubai. Christophe Soumillon found himself boxed in on the inside rail for much of the trip and, while Royal Marine picked up nicely after finding some racing room, the favourite could finish no better than fourth. Despite that convincing loss, punters have been keen to back Royal Marine in the Guineas over recent days and last year's Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere winner will surely come on from the run.
A few days before Skardu claimed victory in an important Guineas Trial, Mohaather (9/1 Betfair) enforce his Classic credentials with a hard-fought triumph in the Greenham Stakes. Marcus Tregoning's charge took a little while to get rolling that day, but Mohaather readily asserted himself to beat Great Scot by half-a-length and stepping up to a mile will only bring about improvement.
Top Irish Raiders
Aidan O’Brien will, once again, carry the hopes of the Irish into the first British Classic of the season and Ten Sovereigns (7/2 William Hill) is the one who has replaced Too Darn Hot at the head of the market. The No Nay Never colt romped to two comfortable victories over six-furlongs at the Curragh. The favourite was then made to work a little harder than many expected in the Middle Park Stakes, but Ten Sovereigns eventually got the job done to seal his first Group One on the Rowley Mile.
Magna Grecia (5/1 Betfair) has also experienced the unique undulations of the Rowley Mile, coming up just a neck short of Persian King in an excellent renewal of the Autumn Stakes. O’Brien’s colt then followed in the footsteps of former stablemate and last year's Guineas king, Saxon Warrior, by narrowly outstaying a strong field in the Vertem Futurity Trophy. establishing himself as a Classic contender in 2019.
A ninth-place finish at the Breeders’ Cup was an underwhelming way to end 2018 for Anthony Van Dyck (20/1 Unibet). O’Brien’s charge had little chance of contending at Churchill Downs after copping a horrible wide draw and punters shouldn’t forget the performances he registered in Europe – winning a big prize at the Curragh before placing in two prestigious Group Ones.
Likely To Miss Out
Quorto was sitting closest to Too Darn Hot at the head of the Guineas betting at the end of last season, having impressed with victories in the Superlative Stakes and the National Stakes at the Curragh. Sadly, Charlie Appleby informed the public earlier in the year that his star colt had suffered a setback and it’s unlikely we will see Quorto return until the second half of the season.
Persian King managed to get the better of Magna Grecia on the Rowley Mile and the runner-up boosted the form of that race at Doncaster. The Autumn Stakes winner won easily on his reappearance as the 1/5 favourite and has been supported since Too Darn Hot came out. However, Andre Fabre doesn’t seem convinced his colt will be able to mix it with the big guns in the British Guineas and will likely point Persian King at lesser targets in his homeland.
Calyx produced one of the best performances at Royal Ascot last season, beating Advertise by a length in the Coventry Stakes after ploughing a lone furrow down the slowest section of the track. He too has come in for support since his stablemate was ruled out. Yet, after missing the crucial second-half of his juvenile campaign through injury - during which time Calyx would likely have tested his stamina over longer trips - I'd be surprised if John Gosden didn't train Calyx towards the big sprint races later in the campaign.
Potential Derby Horses
After beginning his time on the track with two narrow defeats, Line Of Duty (20/1 Unibet) scored three impressive victories during the second half of 2018, completing his hat-trick with a superb victory in the Juvenile Turf at the Breeders’ Cup. I have no doubts this improving sort will get a mile-and-a-half and the Derby will be his primary objective. A bold run in the Guineas before that, however, is certainly not out of the question.
Phoenix Of Spain (25/1 Betfair) earned my affections last season with a series of excellent, battling performances. Charlie Hills’ imposing grey cruised to victory in the Acomb Stakes at York, before twice finishing second at Doncaster - losing out to Too Darn Hot in the Champagne Stakes and, narrowly, to Magna Grecia in the Vertem Futurity Trophy. He certainly has the class to contend over a mile, before stepping up in trip later in the campaign.
Kevin Prendergast will have been as shocked as anyone when Madhmoon (25/1 Ladbrokes) suffered defeat in the Irish 2000 Guineas Trial earlier this month, losing out to Never No More by a neck. The Group Two Juvenile Stakes winner was giving weight to a race-fit rival over a seven-furlong trip which is clearly on the short side. The Irish version of the Guineas looks to be his primary objective and a strong performance is expected at the Curragh, ahead of a prospective tilt at the Derby.
Advertise (12/1 Unibet) was left trailing three lengths in Too Darn Hot’s wake as the winner cruised to Dewhurst glory, but Martyn Meade would have been extremely pleased with the performance his colt produced. The winner of the Group One Keenland Phoenix Stakes was stepping up to seven furlongs for the first time that day. While he was no match for the winner, Advertise saw out the trip nicely and looks more than capable of challenging the best over a mile.
Jash (20/1 Betfair) entered the Middle Park Stakes on the back of convincing wins at Newmarket and Salisbury. Ten Sovereigns was backed like defeat was out of the question. Yet, Simon Crisford’s charge matched the favourite stride-for-stride through the dip in the Rowley Mile before succumbing to a half-length defeat. Jash dealt with the tricky track comfortably that day and looks capable of stepping up to a mile.
Saaed Bin Suroor and Godolphin looked on as Royal Meeting (25/1 William Hill) claimed narrow victories in both of his juvenile outings. The form-card may say the son of Invincible Spirit won the Criterium International Stakes by just three-quarters of a length, but Royal Meeting cruised to victory in that Group One will plenty left in hand and looks like a horse who will come on a bundle during 2019.