On June 6th, at 3.35 pm Greenwich Mean Time, the first British Classic of the season will take place on the famous Rowley Mile: The Qipco 2000 Guineas.
For the first time in history, this stallion-making race par excellence will be run behind closed doors and without any prep or trial races.
This Newmarket Classic, first run in 1809, boasts a prestigious list of breed-shaping champion stallions – including GAINSBOROUGH, BAHRAM, NIJINSKY, SIR IVOR, NUREYEV and more recently FRANKEL.
This year, the contenders won’t have a huge crowd to test their nerves as is usually the case. More significantly, the fact that a Classic will be run without any prep is fairly unique in the history of the sport, and some voices are already questioning the reliability of such a test.
After all, can any racehorse perform at its best without having run any races for the last 7 or 8 months? We frequently hear the American members of the press or trainers arguing about the optimum spacing to get to the Derby. Is it 3, 4, 5 or 6 weeks? Well, what about 35 weeks?
In fact, it appears that modern thoroughbreds don’t need the same prep as they used to, and as Matt Brocklebank observed “Prep races seem to have by and large gone out of fashion across the board in racing and far more horses are now being tuned up for their key targets away from the heat of the battle”.
As a matter of fact, during the last 12 years, 21% of the runners went directly to the Guineas without any prep races at all. Significantly, this 21% accounted for 75% (9 out of 12) of the winners. If that isn’t conclusive enough, the most successful trainer in the history of the Guineas is Aidan O’Brien with 10 winners. And 10 out of his 10 winners hadn’t run in a prep race. It’s hard to see it as a disadvantage!
As you might then guess, the leading preps have not performed well as a pointer for the Guineas. The Craven Stakes, which is run on the same course and distance as the Qipco Classic, produced only 2 winners in the last 30 years. The last one was Haafhd in 2004.
As for the Greenham, run at Newbury over 7F, only the mighty Frankel in 2011 was successful at Newmarket after winning it.
So, if this situation can be manageable for the conditioners who have been reportedly training their horses as normal during the lock down, what about the handicapper? They have to contend with having no prep to judge which horses have wintered well and who has trained on.
To compound the difficulty, training in Europe is a private affair where all is done in the privacy of detached training establishments, without public scrutiny and without any published workouts to guide you.
Finally, another huge difference between the first British and American Classic is the fact that in Europe, racing is pretty much controlled by two superpowers, as in America there is no such polarization. At the time of writing, 21 of the 30 leading market contenders for the Newmarket Classic are owned either by Coolmore or Godolphin.
These juggernauts will manage their resources strategically to avoid any unnecessary clashes as this year’s calendar and health restrictions won’t permit any cross participation in the other Guineas in France and Ireland.
Nevertheless, we will try to be bold and produce a list of our personal 7 leading contenders for the Newmarket Classic based only on 2-year-old form and our observations.
We are ready to do the UNTHINKABLE by NOT putting PINATUBO on top. We are very much aware that everyone will be shocked to read this, as we are going against conventional wisdom and obviously all logic, as he is everyone’s strong favorite.
However, we are allowing gut feelings to have a say and are leaning towards a horse that has accomplished very little so far.
- Encipher – 40/1, John Gosden, Siyouni – Ennaya by Nayef
His form shows that he is not good enough; his rating shows that he is not fast enough; so what is he doing as our Number 1? He is just a maiden winner and he is not even undefeated! We just can’t seem to get past what our eyes are telling us!!
Encipher is a gorgeous big colt with a handsome look from head to toe. Second at Haydock at first asking, he won enthusiastically at Newbury next time out. This performance was visually very impressive and his gallop out was a thing of beauty that stamped him as a Classic Horse.
John Godsen immediately mentioned the Solario for him, and it can be seen as a testament of his ability as the legendary trainer won this race with Champions Too Darn Hot and Kingman,Breeder’s Cup winner Raven’s Pass.
Unfortunately, we did not see him again but remember how impressive he was at Newbury gliding over the ground with those long and effortless strides.
Encipher was a 425 000 Guineas yearling purchase, son of Siyouni and Ennaya, so both his parents have been bred by the Aga Khan. His dam was sold out of training after having been a modest winner in France trained by J.C Rouget. The trainer also conditioned Encipher‘s ¾ sister Ervedya to win a Classic and the Coronation at Royal Ascot.
Siyouni is a real success story. A French two-year-old Group 1 winner, he started his stud career in 2013 at a fee of only €7 500 but is now priced at €100 000, after producing Classic Winners such as Laurens, Sottsass and of course Ervedya.
The Aga Khanhas historically constantly sought to improve the quality of his breeding operation with the purchase of the entire broodmare band of large and successful operations. In 2005, he acquired the totality of the Lagardere stock including Siyouni’s dam, after the tragic death of the leading French breeder.
In 1977 he bought the entire Dupre empire, then the following year he purchased the Boussac special broodmare band from which Encipher’s female family line comes.
Marcel Boussac was a very successful owner-breeder, dominating French racing from the 30s into the 60s. Boussac produced a breed of horses “inside the breed”. Easily distinguishable, his horses shared specific physical characteristics that were reinforced by intense inbreeding. For example; Encipher’s 9th dam Esmeralda, classic winner born in 1939, was sent to Diebel also by Tourbillon (2×2 Inbreeding) on her 1st cover. The resulting foal was the unforgettable Champion Coronation -a Morny, Queen Mary, Guineas and Arc Winner!!
We can note that champion miler Laurens is bred along similar lines as Encipher being both by Siyouni out of a Boussac distaff line.
Finally, we can note that the Encipher female line belongs to the Branch of Bruce Lowe family number 14 that accounts for such a standout American Pharoah and also our Number 2 top contender, Arizona.
2. Arizona – 8/1, Aidan O’Brien, No Nay Never – Lady Ederle by English Channel
The Coventry winner has been fairly beaten twice by Pinatubo, however we believe that he will reverse the tables and improve significantly this season.
Always highly regarded by Ballydoyle, this tall and scopy horse is a handsome individual with great presence. He has an attractive head, broad between the eyes with big soft nostrils. He is very correct with a perfect shoulder angle and strong hindquarters.
At Royal Ascot, the son of No Nay Never appeared a little lean and unfurnished. It is safe to say that he won on sheer brilliance, being slow to get organized and doing plenty wrong during the race.Despite that, everyone was very impressed by his efficient stride with which he flows over the ground.
Although Arizona was no match for Pinatubo when he reappeared in England for the Dewhurst last October, he was a lot stronger and we expect to see him at Newmarket in June more developed and powerful and more assertively masculine.
Arizona ran 7 times as a 2 year old and can look a little exposed to some analysts. However his tenacious, willing attitude combined with his potential physical development makes him a highly fancy prospect for the Classic. He is definitely the kind of horse we would want in our stables.
Arizona is from the 2nd crop of No Nay Never, a beast of a horse that was an enormous and masculine sprinter. He is already considered a success at stud harboring the July Cup and Middle Park winner in his first crop. His stud fee that was €17 500 for his first 3 seasons has been increased to €100 000 and is now €175 000 in 2020.
Hopefully, No Nay Never can offer some compensation and an adequate replacement for the tragic loss of his dad Scat Daddy in 2015. The death of the striking bay stallion has been a terrible blow for Coolmore and with the passage of subsequent seasons the realization of the great loss has gotten even worse.
Scat Daddy, like his son No Nay Never, was a big horse who sired big and good sized horses with a lot of speed who mature early.
These stallions like Caravaggio at Coolmore and Justify at Ashford helped balance the Coolmore/Ashford pedigrees that looked saturated with the Galileo and Danehill blood.
It is already well documented how No Nay Never nicks exceptionally well with Sadler’s Well and Danehill.
Interestingly, Arizona, that is 4×4 inbred to Mr Prospector, is completely free of Sadler’s Wells as well as Danzig.It makes him a complete outcross on the Coolmore stock.
Arizona is the 3rd foal out of the unraced English Channel mare Lady Eberle and a full brother of Nay Lady Nay, a winner last year of the Mrs Revere at Churchill Downs.
The 2nd dam Bright Generation by Rainbow Quest won the Moyglare and the Italian Oaks.
Arizona’s distaff line is also coming from a Boussac family and characteristically Arizona’s 5th dam Granada is inbred 2×3 to Tourbillon.
3. Threat – 16/1, Richard Hannon Jr Footstepsinthesand – Flare of Firelight by Birdstone
The Gimcrack and Champagne winner is an awesome looking horse with plenty of scope and a lot of quality. Threat is a perfectly balanced and correct individual with a nice length of rein and an attractive head.He won three races with a lot of authority, but even when he got beaten at Ascot, Goodwood and Newmarket, he was still very impressive with his tremendous mechanics and his long, low and smooth action. His stride length and efficiency are spectacular with a very good reach; he keeps his legs under him with no wasted motion.
We think that for raw talent, he stands above the rest, unfortunately his prerace behaviour has seriously impacted his performances. Whenever he ran at Ascot, Goodwood, York, Doncaster or Newmarket, Threat has always been very difficult in the preliminaries, pacing, sweating and really upset both in the parade ring and behind the starting gates. The key for him is to relax and hopefully a Guineas without the public will allow him to show his immense ability.
He is by Guineas winner and prolific sire Footstepinthesand out of Flare of Firelight, by Birdstone. Birdstone will always be remembered as the “spoiler” of Smarty Jones’s Triple Crown when he came in the last 100 yards of the Belmont to outstay the horse that illuminated the 2004 Classic Series in America. Birdstone went on to win the Travers, then retired at Gainesway.
He would never have won a beauty contest being small and long, but the Marylou Whitney homebred again stunned the racing world by producing not one but two classic winners in America in his first crop! However, he has never been a commercially acceptable sire as his yearlings are lacking attractiveness.
Still standing at Gainesway, Frank Mitchell calls him “The best $5 000 stallion in the world,” and he remains a proven stamina influence.
His daughter and Threat’s dam, Flare of Fancy, from the Niarchos family of Northern Trick, did nothing on the track and was culled when she retired from training. She is the daughter of Shiva from whom Threat got his color and elegant and athletic outlook.
Shiva was a fantastic race mare, champion in Europe in 1999, she was well behaved with a great temperament. However, Shiva produced a string of high-spirited individuals. We remembered that Henry Cecil had a lot of trouble to settle and relax some of Shiva’s daughters like Tymora and Eccentricity, both highly strung fillies. We can guess that this is where Threat’s antics are coming from.
Sold as a foal in Newmarket for 100 000 Guineas, Threat is inbred 4×4 to Storm Bird. His female family is Number 4, the one Enable is coming from.
4. Alson – 16/1, Andre Fabre Areion – Assisi by Galileo
Alson has the distinction to have won the most uncompetitive Group 1 in the world. The Criterium International was a farce of a race run at the end of October on a bottomless Longchamp track.After the two runners broke from the gates, we were expecting a very slow early pace as is common at the Paris racecourse however it turned out to be a truly run race.
Well aware that the winner of a two runner contest is nearly always the front runner, as we saw in America when match races were very popular, both jockeys, reincarnating George Woolf on Seabiscuit, went flat out for the first half-mile to grab the lead. By the time they reached the quarter pole, Dettori on Alson had pretty much disheartened his Ballydoyle opponent and went on to score by 20 lengths in pedestrian final fractions.
It was nevertheless a very good performance and Alson is no doubt immensely talented to draw off as he did.
Alson appeared as a short and lanky 2 year-old, with a lovely Arabian head, and he will surely have strengthened a lot during the course of the winter and early spring. He won his first Group Race at Baden Baden at the end of August where he ran very green, having missed the break and overaced until the penny dropped. That day his stretch run was magnificent, and he won impressively on pure brilliance.
We saw him running a little more professionally in the Lagardere on Arc day when he finished a close second, having been the front runner of the race. Nevertheless having been free going to the start, almost running off with Dettori, and his lack of fluency in the stretch when he switched leads repetitively and ineffectively, incite us to believe that plenty of progress is possible.
He is now under the care of Master trainer Andre Fabre and his team can be trusted to present Alson , in the best physical condition with a more polished way of racing.
When we saw him in Longchamp last fall, we were very surprised to see a light-bodied colt as we assumed that with his German pedigree, he would be stronger and more athletic.
German bloodlines are renowned all over the world for producing big, strong and rangy horses. It has been the official German policy, since the turn of the 20th Century, to allow in the breeding shed only thoroughbreds that meet an adequate conformation standard, while in other major racing countries, the only qualification were the results on the track. The rule was : “The Thoroughbred exists because its selection has depended, not on experts, technicians or zoologists but on a piece of Wood: the winning post of the Epsom Derby!!” –Frederico Tesio.
Anyhow, the Germans persisted stubbornly in the endeavour to produce not only fast but also athletic and sturdy horses.
Consequently, when at the turn of the millenium the yearling market started to put more emphasis on conformation and athleticism, German bloodlines came back into fashion.
Alson is a homebred from the Gestut Schlenderhan near Cologne that has owned his family for 10 generations. The Stud was created in 1869 and has dominated German racing for nearly a century, winning the Deutsch Derby 18 times.
The stud bred Allegretta, the dam of the breed-shaping mare Urban Sea that gifted the racing world with Galileo and Sea the Stars.
Alson is absolutely not what we could call a fashionably bred horse but looking deep into it, he has a very clever pedigree pattern. The cross of Aerion, German Champion Sprinter in 1998, with a daughter of Galileo works to improve skeletal structure, adding size and providing a balance of speed and stamina. Of course, designing the mating of an English 2000 Guineas winner would give Baron and Baronin Von Ullman strong enjoyment and we wish them the best!
Alson comes from the Family line No 2 that produced Northern Dancer and Secretariat.
5. Kameko – 14/1, Andrew Balding Kitten’s Joy – Sweetwater Hill by Rock of Gibraltar.
Kameko made history winning the first Group 1 ever contested in Europe on an Artificial Surface. He beat a good field that day including the impressive Newmarket winner Kinross and the Ballydoyle candidate for Epsom Mogul. Everything went his way and Oisin Murphy gave him a great ride, but you cannot fail to be impressed by the way this big and strong colt stretched out in the final furlong to win by more than three lengths with plenty in hand.
We loved the way he flopped his ears around as if he really enjoyed what he was doing. His action is long, powerful and his mechanics are better than any 2-year-old we saw last year. However, we are not sure that the undulating Newmarket track is ideal for him. That is the reason why we only put him in the Number 5 spot as he is more a relentless galoper than a horse that can quicken going flat out into the dip as will be needed on the first Saturday of June.
We saw him on the Rowley mile in September looking to have all the rivals beaten passing the Bushes two furlongs out, just to become unbalanced and lose a race that was at his mercy against an inferior rival.
Kameko is a beautiful individual with plenty of size and scope. He has a great shoulder and powerful hindquarters. The son of Kitten’s Joy is very correct and a tremendous mover. He has the attractive and intelligent head of his father.
David Redvers bought him for Qatar racing at Keeneland in September for $90 000 as a yearling and predicted the day after the sale: “We have bought the steal of the sale!” Astonishingly he turns out that he was probably right in what constitutes an amazing tour de force! Well done David!
In fact, Redvers was able to buy this outstanding colt so cheaply, because he is by an unfashionable sire and out of a middle-aged mare that was considered a failure at stud. David Redvers took the chance and has been already consequently rewarded to be involved with such an exceptional individual.
Kitten’s Joy is incredibly efficient at producing winners but has still no appeal whatsoever commercially.
Once again Champion North American Sire in 2018, Kitten’s Joyremained unable to crack inside the Top 30 Yearling Sire Average in 2019. It appears that there is simply no interest for a Turf sire in America, and for various reasons we can account that he is also not liked by the European patrons.
It is not the case of David Redvers and the Qatar Team as they bought their Kitten’s Joy’s 2018 Champion and European Horse of the Year Roaring Lion also at Keeneland.
Kameko was bred at Calumet Farm out of Sweetwater Still, an American Grade 3 winner and half-sister to Group 1 winner Kingsbarns by Galileo, so on the same cross as Kameko.
Interestingly Sweetwater Still went three times through the sale ring of Keeneland. She made $750 000 as a nine-year-old, $35 000 as an eleven-year-old and $1 500 as a thirteen-year-old in 2018.
What do you think of that?
Of course that volatility can be explained by her lack of success as a broodmare before Kameko. She has been sold again privately and is now part of the broodmare band of Qatar Racing. If Kameko manages to win the Guineas, her value could again dramatically change the other way around. Good luck Kameko!!
6. Wichita – 20/1 Aidan O’Brien No Nay Never – Lumiere Noire by Dashing Blade
We put Wichita in 6th position, but for sheer talent, he is as gifted as anyone in this Top 7. He was still raw and unfurnished when he won the Somerville at Newmarket in September, but his performance, as he drew away from a good field, was spectacular.
He was so impressive that Coolmore promptly supplemented him for the Dewhurst a fortnight later. He wasn’t as exceptional there, finishing third behind Pinatubo and Arizona, lacking the tactical speed and balance to negotiate the infamous Newmarket dip as well as his rivals.
However, we saw last year a horse with tremendous scope for improvement, tall and long striding but still not agile enough to keep up with the champions. He has a nice outlook with a great presence and a very good head. We are expecting to find a more organized colt at Newmarket in June as a horse with his stride definitely has a great future.
He is sharing the same Sire as Arizona that we discussed earlier, out of the Dashing Blade mare Lumiere Noire that raced in Germany and won a Listed race there. Wichita’s dam has an old-fashioned pedigree combining the Mill Reef sireline with Ahonoora.
Using Mill Reef line mares with Storm Cat lines can produce champions like Pinatubo as Mill Reef is a big asset to balance modern pedigrees.
Inbred 4×4 to Mr. Prospector, Wichita was bought as a yearling by John Magnier, and if he manages to win a classic he will be an invaluable input to the Coolmore operation as, like Arizona, he is completely free of Sadler’s Wells and Danzig blood.
7. Pinatubo – 10/11 Charlie Appleby Shamardal – Lava Flow by Dalakhani
Pinatubo is officially 10lbs clear of his nearest rival in the European Two-year-old classification. He has been given a rating of 128, which makes him the best juvenile since Celtic Swing achieved a figure of 130 in 1994, an achievement matched only by Arazi in 1991!
Even the mighty Frankel was rated “only” 126 at the end of his two-year-old season. Pinatubo was truly exceptional in his first racing season, head and shoulders above everyone else. However, we dare to differ and envision that he won’t be as dominant as a three-year-old and that the six horses above and maybe others will catch up with him. In the National and Dewhurst, he looked particularly well organized and uncomplicated with a great temperament. He appeared to have no fault and had a very efficient way of racing that forced admiration.
However, our personal observations make us feel that he desperately lacks the class of a three-year-old Classic Champion.
Smallish and cylindrical with a plain head, Pinatubo gained his dominance by a mental and physical superior maturity as a two-year-old, and we believe that his opponents at the highest level will progress more than him.
By the overachiever both on and off the track Shamardal, Pinatubo doesn’t have the qualities, scope or athleticism of his father, nor of the recently retired Blue Point alsoby Shamardal.
Shamardal, Blue Point and most of the champions from this sire line have a very similar body type, physical characteristics and an exuberant endeavor that we can’t find in Pinatubo.
The loss of Shamardal last month was terribly sad for the Darley/Godolphin operation; he sired 25 Group I winners and last year a record breaking three juveniles at the highest level.
He was an exceptional stallion.
Pinatubo is a Darley homebred like both his parents, and like Wichita,is a Storm Cat X Mill Reef cross as his dam is by Dalakhani.
In opposition to the very successful policy of Godolphin to winter his best horses in Dubai, Pinatubo stayed in Newmarket, and according to Charlie Appleby he had an uneventful preparation.
Contrasting with Shamardal or Blue Point, Pinatubo is not an exuberant worker and only does the minimum.
Consequently his trainer sent him to Chelmsford City Racecourse last week for a workout with two lead horses.
According to Charlie Appleby “Pinatubo never won a gallop but he never finished last. He worked adequately, he would never disappoint but never excite either.”
Another concern for his odds-on backers is the fact that he never ran on the fast ground he is likely to encounter in early June at Newmarket. Indeed, the grounds on which he was so magnificent last year were always on the slow side under foggy and showery conditions. Unless the Rowley Mile is profusely watered for the Guineas, chances are that his round action won’t be as efficient on a lively summer surface.
Other colts can be mentioned as contenders just outside the Top 7.
Kinross is a very balanced colt, but he may lack the seasoning for this company so early in the season. He sweated profusely at Newcastle and is far from the finished article. Military Marsh is a nice flashy colt but will prefer 10 or 12 furlongs. The same can be said about Mogul, who is probably Ballydoyle’s Derby horse. Hypothetical was very impressive at Chelmsford this winter but still looked delicate and leggy for such a contest. Golden Horde is more a Sprinter and should be very competitive at six furlongs during the season.
Kenzai Warrior, Positive, Alsuhail and Mishriff are not Group 1 material.