Galileo should ensure speedily bred Churchill stays the Classic mile
Martin Stevens on the Newmarket favourite who is from a family full of sprinters
Confronted with a short-priced favourite for the 2,000 Guineas who is out of a five-furlong Listed winner and Queen Mary Stakes runner-up, who in turn is a daughter of the fine sprinter Airwave, we might usually doubt whether the horse in question is really bred to excel over a Classic mile.
In the case of Churchill, we almost certainly need not worry. Last year's champion two-year-old in Europe is by the masterful Galileo, who will likely have imparted sufficient stamina and class, and he did not look as though he was running out of fuel when a dominant winner of the National Stakes and Dewhurst over seven furlongs.
The combination of Galileo with fast mares has become a favourite mating with breeders, who have no doubt been inspired by the colt who put up the most jaw-dropping performance in winning the 2,000 Guineas in recent years: Frankel, by Coolmore's perennial champion sire out of Kind, a Listed winner both over the minimum trip and over one furlong further.
Gleneagles, the other 2,000 Guineas hero sired by Galileo who was conceived after Frankel's champion juvenile season, is out of You'resothrilling, a dual Group winner over six furlongs, while Alice Springs, Cape Blanco, Magician, Mondialiste and Seventh Heaven are among other stars by the sire who shone over a mile and further and are out of faster mares.
Mind you, few of Galileo's high-achieving runners with that blend of stamina and speed in their pedigrees hailed from a maternal line that is quite so geared towards sprinting as Churchill's has been in recent generations.
Churchill was bred by Liberty Bloodstock out of Meow, a daughter of Storm Cat who was a seven-length winner of her maiden over five furlongs in May as a two-year-old. On her next start Meow was beaten just a neck into second by Maqaasid in the Queen Mary Stakes and then won the Listed Grangecon Stud Stakes over five furlongs on what was to be her penultimate start in her only season to race.
Meow's dam Airwave, by the high-class miler Air Express, was beaten half a length by Soviet Song on her debut at Kempton – what a maiden that turned out to be, with her conqueror going on to win five Group 1s – and went on to take the scalp of Russian Rhythm to win the Cheveley Park Stakes.
While Soviet Song and Russian Rhythm tackled the Classics, Airwave was kept to sprinting at three and signalled her brilliance in that discipline with a remarkable seasonal debut in the Temple Stakes at Sandown, in which she dwelt badly and lost five lengths at the start, only to effortlessly bridge the gap and saunter past her rivals to win by three lengths.
Airwave looked to have the top sprint races at her mercy but no one had reckoned on an Australian horse taking Royal Ascot by storm that year, and her rattling late run after another slow start in the Golden Jubilee Stakes was not enough to catch Choisir, who led from start to finish, just as he had done in the King's Stand Stakes four days earlier.
Airwave finished placed behind Oasis Dream in the July Cup and Somnus in the Haydock Sprint Cup before her form tailed off a little towards the end of the season. At four her habit of starting slowly and pulling hard in the early stages of a race played against her and she was unable to make her mark in top-flight company, having to be dropped to a Listed race to gain her only victory at that age.
At the end of her four-year-old campaign she was sold to Coolmore for 550,000gns and transferred to Aidan O'Brien, who conjured one last victory out of the mare at five in the Group 2 Ridgewood Pearl Stakes over a mile, a distance that allowed her more time to overcome her tendency to miss the break.
Airwave was out of five-furlong scorer Kangra Valley, a daughter of the top sprinter Indian Ridge and also the dam of the ill-fated Nunthorpe Stakes heroine Jwala. Kangra Valley is out of Thorner Lane, another five-furlong winner by the smart sprinter Tina's Pet, while Thorner Lane was out of Spinner, a daughter of Nunthorpe Stakes hero Blue Cashmere who won over – you guessed it – five furlongs and was a half-sister to the tough and classy Clantime, a nine-time winner over that distance.
The family's prowess at sprinting was honed by the Watson family of Manor Farm Stud in Rutland, who have concentrated on trying to produce fast and durable stock.
Penny Pincher, the dam of Spinner and Clantime, was the only foal produced by Midnight Dollar, an unraced mare the Watsons acquired when they swapped her for a hunter in 1970.
Incredibly, the ancestors of Classic favourite Churchill were actually included in the non-thoroughbred register until relatively recently, with Thorner Lane gaining entry into the General Stud Book in the 1980s.
Since then, the family have been quite the social climbers. Airwave, originally purchased as a yearling by trainer Henry Candy at Doncaster for just 12,000gns, earned access to the courts of the best stallions in the world after her illustrious racing career. As well as producing Meow to Storm Cat, she has come up with Aloof, a Group 3 winner over an extended mile and a furlong, and Orator, a Listed winner over a mile, when mated with Galileo.
Aloof (sold for $3.9 million to Mandy Pope at Keeneland in 2014 - who could have guessed that would happen 13 years earlier when her dam sold for peanuts?) and Orator, bred along such similar lines to Churchill, lend weight to his claims to stay the Guineas distance.
Despite all those sprinters massing in his distaff family, the fact he is by Derby hero Galileo, who has appeared in the first two generations of five of the last six 2,000 Guineas, should dispel any concerns about the favourite not getting every inch of the mile at Newmarket on Saturday and perhaps further in future.
The bigger question may be, having been such a physically forward and imposing two-year-old, whether Churchill's contemporaries will have caught up with him over the winter.