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Monday, 17 December, 2018

Churchill dominates but we all love the glorious uncertainty

Richard Forristal sets the scene for an exciting Classic weekend

Churchill and Ryan Moore bid for a Classic double at the Curragh
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Those of us lamenting the lack of depth to this weekend’s Tattersalls-sponsored Group 1 fare at the Curragh might be advised to cast our minds back 12 months.

Last year, in the opening juvenile maiden that gets Sunday's proceedings under way, a certain Aidan O’Brien-trained Galileo colt was sent off an uneasy 2-1 favourite.

It remains the only occasion Churchill has suffered defeat, after he was caught flat-footed on soft ground before running on well to be third behind Van Der Decken.

With the benefit of hindsight, you could surmise they are all beatable, although a future star getting turned over on their debut is hardly unusual.

That is something to bear in mind for Saturday's curtain-raising maiden, which features the debuts of Churchill's sister Clemmie and Winter's sister Snowflakes.

At the risk of being made to look foolish by a dead-heat, they can’t both win.

 However, the most cautionary precedents on Irish Guineas weekend last year are to be found in the three Group 1s.

Galileo Gold failed to justify favouritism in his bid to complete the Newmarket-Curragh double, and then Minding and Found were foiled at 4-11 and 8-15 by Jet Setting and Fascinating Rock in Sunday’s Group 1s.

Notwithstanding the merits of the Ballydoyle fillies’ conquerors, subsequent events did little to reconcile those copybook blots for two such high-calibre individuals.

In short, horses have off-days, and, to paraphrase the chap after whom Churchill is named: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal.”

Defeat, and the prospect of it, is part of what engages us and reveals character, which is why racing fans pine for meaningful competition in the sport’s marquee events.

Barring an unforeseen calamity, with so little in terms of proven opposition, it’s hard to envisage the Irish 2,000 Guineas being the event in which the mighty Churchill's mettle is tested.

That all said, the chance to see such a fine specimen race on Irish soil once again is welcome. It is 20 years now since his virtuoso trainer made the Classic breakthrough, with Desert King and Classic Park plundering the two Irish Guineas.

Should Churchill secure the Wexford-born genius an 11th win in the €300,000 contest, it would take his European Classic haul to a mind-boggling 70.

To put that in perspective, O’Brien’s iconic predecessor and namesake Vincent finished with 44.

Reporting for duty

Charged with leading the opposition against the dominant market leader is Irishcorrespondent. Mick Halford craves a first Classic winner and he has never had better prospects than Saturday’s contender and Rehana in Sunday’s 1,000 Guineas.

With Pat Smullen available, Halford’s trusty ally Shane Foley misses out on Rehana. However, Foley knows all about taking the opportunities he gets and not dwelling on the ones he doesn’t.

Lest we forget, it was he who conspired to outsmart Ryan Moore on Minding to land last year’s 1,000 Guineas aboard Jet Setting. He is a tactically astute rider, so he is as well-equipped as anyone to plot Churchill’s downfall on Irishcorrespondent.

Should Foley execute another giant-slaying feat, Halford will deserve every plaudit that comes his way, given his exciting Teofilo colt graced the track for the first time only last month.

One with a little more experience is Glastonbury Song – a son of Halford’s 2010 Racing Post Trophy winner Casamento – who is likewise seeking to get Ger Lyons and Colin Keane on the Classic roll of honour.

Lyons has stated in recent days that he is using the Guineas as a trial for Royal Ascot’s Jersey Stakes for his smart colt. That might seem a slightly unorthodox approach, but Lyons has never been a slave to convention.

Bizarre episode

The only other horse in the six-runner field not hailing from Ballydoyle is Godolphin’s Thunder Snow.

The son of Helmet has already raced nine times, although he behaved more like an unbroken yearling when bucking and plunging through the first furlong of the Kentucky Derby.

That was a bizarre and unexplained episode that Christophe Soumillon will be desperate for him not to repeat, as last year’s Criterium International winner is the only other runner in the race to have won a Group 1.

Temple clash

At Haydock, the Temple Stakes takes centre stage. Karl Burke’s stable star Quiet Reflection landed the Sandy Lane Stakes here under Dougie Costello last year before returning to complete a Group 1 brace in the Sprint Cup, having also claimed the Commonwealth Cup.

Burke recently severed his ties with Costello, who responded to the setback with tremendous dignity and good grace.

For the first time in more than a year and a half, though, Quiet Reflection will have someone other than Costello up top, with Martin Harley getting the nod to steer the classy filly. That's assuming, however, that Quiet Reflection runs – Burke will decide on Saturday whether the ground is suitable. 

Regardless of whether she lines up, Ballydoyle’s Washington DC has a strong chance, with Winter’s 1,000 Guineas-winning partner Wayne Lordan reunited with the narrow Palace House Stakes runner-up for a first time since finishing fifth on him in last year's July Cup.

With 11 of the 12 declared runners covered by a 10lb ratings spread, the £100,000 Group 2 certainly doesn't lack depth, although whether the corresponding 2016 fixture proves any more or less instructive than the Curragh's remains to be seen.

If only it were that simple.

Saturday cards and form

Defeat, and the prospect of it, is part of what engages us and reveals character, which is why racing fans pine for meaningful competition

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