Saxon Warrior set to give Aidan O'Brien another 2,000 Guineas
Racing Post Trophy winner could pull off Classic double
AIDAN O’BRIEN has sent out eight of the last 20 winners of the 2,000 Guineas and has the first three in the betting this year. However, there’s no short-priced favourite as we’ve grown accustomed to and this is a rare opportunity to get with what should be the stable’s flag-bearer this season at decent odds.
Saxon Warrior is probably better bred for the Derby than the Guineas, being by Deep Impact out of a Galileo mare, but that mare was Maybe, who had the speed to win over 6f on her debut and excelled over 7f at two.
For all that Saxon Warrior did all his racing over a mile last year, the main quality he showed was pace, quickening up from behind to win impressively on his debut, then doing his rivals for speed in a steadily run Group 2 at Naas. Finally, in the Racing Post Trophy, he travelled strongly into the lead before finding extra when headed.
O’Brien was quoted afterwards saying that Ryan Moore was adamant that the colt had a miler’s pace and would have no problem being a Guineas horse, which confirms the visual impression, and I’ll be very surprised if he’s not Moore’s pick of the Ballydoyle runners at Newmarket.
It has to be said that Guineas winners without form over shorter than a mile at two are rare, Camelot being the only one in the last 30 years, but Saxon Warrior strikes me as a type who can also do the Guineas-Derby double.
Indeed, on the basis that I believe he’s going to run at Newmarket first and run well, it’s worth chancing a little on him doing just that at 25-1 with bet365.
Let’s not forget Australia was sent off 11-8 for his Derby after finishing third in the Guineas, while Camelot landed odds of 8-13 when completing the double two years earlier, so if Saxon Warrior wins or even just places in the Guineas he’s likely to go off very short at Epsom.
Gustav Klimt is next in the betting but I’m not so keen on his chances. I thought he got a bit too much credit for rallying to win the Superlative Stakes after being hampered. Even if he’d had a clear run and beaten Nebo by a more comfortable margin, that wouldn’t have been any more than several other horses achieved last year.
Of course he was absent afterwards as well, missing the National Stakes because of a stone bruise and the Dewhurst due to a torn muscle. O’Brien said after the Dewhurst that we’d next see him in the Guineas, but he’ll be short of experience and of course those comments were made before Saxon Warrior won at Doncaster.
US Navy Flag stepped in to win the Dewhurst for the stable, following up his Middle Park success a fortnight earlier, and he seems very much in the same mould as his sister Roly Poly, who was also heavily raced over sprint distances at two yet found improvement upped in trip.
It’s easy to put a line through his run on dirt at the Breeders’ Cup and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him run well in the Guineas, but at similar prices I prefer the claims of Saxon Warrior, who will appreciate taking a lead from his strong-galloping, front-running stablemate.
The disappointment of the Dewhurst was undoubtedly Expert Eye, who was sent off 4-7 on the back of an impressive success in the Vintage Stakes. He travelled powerfully and bounded clear at Goodwood, but after a dirty scope ruled him out of the National Stakes he was beaten a fair way from home at Newmarket, racing keenly and dropping away to finish last. Although he was initially reported to have finished lame, he later trotted up sound and nothing seemingly came to light afterwards.
He clearly has something to prove now, not least his stamina given he’s by Acclamation, whose best progeny have tended to excel over distances short of a mile.
Emaraaty also failed to live up to expectations in the Dewhurst, but it was a big step up in class for him from a Newbury maiden and perhaps it was all a bit much at that stage of his career.
John Gosden had hinted after Newbury that he might start out this year in the Greenham, so he has the potential to get back in the picture and he’s certainly bred to be top-class, being a 2.6 million guineas half-brother to Izzi Top and Jazzi Top.
Gosden has another bullet to fire with Roaring Lion, who was deemed unlucky by many not to win the Racing Post Trophy.
It certainly seemed that had Oisin Murphy timed his challenge perfectly the colt would have beaten Saxon Warrior, but it wasn’t the first time he’d hung left when coming through to challenge as he did the same in his previous two wins and ultimately he was outbattled.
As smart as he is, it seems he has a quirk or two and maybe that will hold him back. Just like Saxon Warrior, he didn’t run over shorter than a mile at two so also has that uncomfortable stat to overcome.
Elarqam won both his starts over 7f at two, seeing his races out in the style of a colt who is going to be suited by a step up to a mile. A 1.6 million guineas son of Frankel out of his trainer Mark Johnston’s 1,000 Guineas winner Attraction, he has plenty of scope and appeals as the type to improve considerably from two to three.
Johnston clearly thinks highly of him and, aware of the expectation around the colt, admitted after the Tattersalls Stakes that it was the most nervous he had been for years. The colt got warm beforehand at Newmarket and raced a shade keenly and he wouldn’t want to do that in the Guineas, but he does hold good credentials.
Charlie Appleby has a couple of interesting contenders. Masar was a bit too keen on unsuitably soft ground when only third in the Lagardere and got too far back before finishing fast at the Breeders’ Cup. We probably haven’t seen the best of him yet, but whether he goes for the Guineas or heads down the Derby trial route remains to be seen.
Appleby’s other one to keep an eye on is Glorious Journey, who won both his starts last year, including a French Group 3. A 2.6 million guineas purchase, he has a miler’s pedigree (by Dubawi out of a Coronation Stakes winner) and would be an interesting contender if turning up, especially given his sire’s stunning record in the race with the few runners he’s had. From only four runners, Dubawi has had two winners – at 33-1 and 40-1 – and placed horses at 33-1 and 16-1. The other son of Dubawi in the reckoning at the moment is Gosden’s Emaraaty. Ghaiyyath is also by Dubawi but looks more of a Derby candidate on paper.
After winning the National Stakes, Jim Bolger described Verbal Dexterity as “the real deal” and “as good as any of the two-year-olds I’ve had.”
The Dewhurst, which he’s won five times in the last 12 years, was going to be the colt’s next assignment, but he scoped dirty and had to swerve the race. Instead, he ran in the Racing Post Trophy a fortnight later. Although a solidly backed 5-2 second-favourite, he was uncharacteristically chased along early and never really travelled. Despite that, he was first to tackle the winner before dropping away to finish fourth.
Bolger later blamed himself for the disappointing performance, stating that the colt seemed in good form at home and that he took a chance in running him but in hindsight wished he hadn’t. He went on to say that Verbal Dexterity would go straight to the Guineas next.
It might be worth forgiving that run at Doncaster and it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see him in the shake-up at Newmarket, especially given his trainer’s record in the race this century (a winner and two placed horses from six runners – five genuine contenders if you don’t count Dawn Approach’s pacemaker).
However, it’s a concern that he’s yet to encounter good ground or faster and, while his trainer is of the opinion that won’t be a problem for him, it’s worth noting that his sire Vocalised ran his best races in the mud as well.
Wootton veered left and right through greenness on his debut but still won by 6l. He then followed up in a Listed race by 5l, looking far more professional. He looks an exciting prospect, but outside of the odd Ascot runner his trainer Henri-Alex Pantall hasn’t made a habit of bringing his horses over to Britain. It remains to be seen whether his purchase by Godolphin before his second start changes things.
Stamina could be an issue for Sioux Nation, James Garfield and Richmond Stakes winner Barraquero, while Karl Burke has said that Raydiance is ground dependent, needing plenty of give to be seen at his best.
A dirty scope prevented Wells Farhh Go from contesting the Racing Post Trophy and Tim Easterby said afterwards that the Acomb winner might return in a conditions race at Newcastle before heading to the Dante, so it looks like he’s seen as more of a middle-distance prospect.
Mendelssohn, who could be aimed at the Kentucky Derby, is a May foal, while Family Tree and Herculean are late April foals, so are all younger than ideal – Dawn Approach, who was very experienced at two, is the only winner in the last 25 years to have been born after the first week in April.
Extract taken from the RFO Flat Racing Guide 2018 - out now