Who Are the Current Favorites of the British Classics?

March 29, 2023

Victoria Road on his way to a narrow score in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (Courtney Snow/Past The Wire)

By Michaela Moricova

Whereas the US has the Road to the Kentucky Derby and it’s quite convenient to watch which horses could head for the Churchill Downs, it’s not that clear in the rest of the world, including the UK and Ireland. Therefore, I look at the chances of the most exciting three-year-olds trained by both British and Irish trainers with the British Classic races in mind. If you are interested in what Aidan O’Brien is about to send in May to Newmarket and Epsom, you’ve arrived at the right place. Still, don’t be surprised I won’t talk about the Champion Two-year-old colt of 2022, as Blackbeard has already been retired. The Aidan O’Brien ex-trainee suffered an injury, so no more prancing and dancing prior to the races from him as the G1 Prix Morny winner has entered the stud.

Aidan O’Brien

I think the Irish magician’s name is enough for a sub-headline. Everybody knows how successful his cooperation with Coolmore is as and every year his horses score at least one Classic race in the UK or Ireland. In 2023, he has some exciting three-year-olds in the barn again, so let’s look at them and gauge their chances in the first couple of Classic races of the Flat season.

Champs Auguste Rodin and Little Big Bear

The first name that comes to my mind is Little Big Bear. The son of No Nay Never has five outings under his belt and most notably delivered in the G1 Phoenix Stakes over six furlongs. Under Ryan Moore, he absolutely destroyed the competition in Curragh as he triumphed by seven lengths, cementing his position as one of the best two-year-olds of 2022. When looking at his pedigree, he should be able to handle a mile in the 2000 Guineas. Given his apparent class, I see him as the leading victory candidate alongside his stable-mate, Auguste Rodin

The brilliantly bred son of late Japanese star Deep Impact and G1 winner Rhododendron showcased his talent in September 2022 when scoring a G2 race, upon which he secured his premiere G1 victory in the Vertem Futurity Trophy. On the heavy ground, his performance wasn’t any short of spectacular as he covered the mile-long trip with ease, and for the 2000 Guineas, he should be a viable option. I prefer Little Big Bear here; however, Auguste Rodin is a hot favorite for the Epsom Derby in June. His pedigree suggests he should thrive over the mile-and-a-half-long distance. Although I’m not a fan of such ridiculously low odds at the beginning of the season, I see where it came from, and I won’t be surprised if Auguste Rodin strikes gold in the Epsom Derby.

Other Classic Hopes

Aidan O’Brien has some other aces up his sleeves for the Derby, but it’s too early to pinpoint ones that will head to Epsom. Still, I have to mention Victoria Road by Saxon Warrior, who won the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. He scored just by a nose, yet showed class and determination when scoring the fourth win in a row. One might say that with eight starts, Victoria Road doesn’t have much potential to improve over the upcoming season, but oh, boy, regarding Aidan O’Brien’s horses, there’s always some room for improvement. 

When it comes to fillies competing in the 1000 Guineas, Aidan O’Brien will probably send over Meditate. She won five of seven outings, including the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, where the daughter of No Nay Never didn’t find a worthy opponent. Without a shadow of a doubt, she was the best filly in the field, and even though she should cope with longer distances too, I expect Meditate to deliver a good run also in the 1000 Guineas. I don’t think she will win, though, and I didn’t think so also about other Aidan O’Brien filly, Statuette, that will miss the first part of the season anyway.

A maiden winner Beginnings isn’t listed as a serious Classic hope right now, but my heart skips a beat due to her being a daughter of Lord Kanaloa and Winter. I’ll keep an eye on her for the Classics and also for the Coronation Stakes during Royal Ascot.

Dermont Weld Again Eyeing Classic Glory

Besides Aidan O’Brien, there are at least three other Irish trainers having high hopes for their three-year-olds. Dermot Weld will rely on Tahiyra, a filly by Siyouni, who triumphed in the G1 Moyglare Stud Stakes when being just a maiden winner. Her victory was brilliant, and I’m surely looking forward to her 2023 campaign; however, I can fathom Dermot Weld skipping the British 1000 Guineas and opting for the Irish one. It’s a bit later in the season, and the Irish veteran trainer hardly ever presses his horses to hit the ground early. Whenever Tahiyra appears, though, she needs to be counted for.

Then there is Joseph O’Brien, who isn’t supported by such an enormous operation as his father; still, he can achieve notable successes with his trainees. His brightest three-year-old star of 2023 could be Al Riffa, a Wootton Bassett colt who delivered in the G1 Vincent O’Brien Stakes. The competition wasn’t the strongest back then, so he has to step up his game again to become a threat for the best of Aidan O’Brien’s assets. Donnacha O’Brien, Joseph’s brother, hopes he could add another G1 to his training successes thanks to chestnut Proud And Regal as the Galileo son scored among the elite in Saint-Cloud.

British Rely on Chaldean

It’s always difficult to land the British Classics against the Irish squad, but it’s not impossible, of course. In 2023, Chaldean looks like one of the best chances for the British to strike gold on their home soil as the chestnut won four out of his five outings. The Andrew Balding-trained son of Frankel climbed through the categories to crown the season with a narrow victory in the G1 Dewhurst Stakes, the most prestigious British race for two-year-old colts. Judging by that performance, Chaldean should benefit from a bit longer distances, and the mile at Newmarket could suit him. I’m not convinced he is the 2000 Guineas winner in the making, yet I expected him to run well.

Charlie Appleby might find his best Classic colt in Noble Style. The Kingman son signed off the last season with an easy triumph at the G2 stage, and even though he needs to considerably improve to have a say against Little Big Bear or Chaldean, he should be capable of that. Although he hasn’t covered a trip longer than six furlongs, he should handle the mile. In terms of the Derby, Noble Style doesn’t look appealing, and the British must wait for their staying star to appear.

Still, they could land the spoils in the 1000 Guineas. It will be a colossal task to deter the Irish, too, especially after great two-year-old filly Commisioning has been retired due to injury. Still, Lezoo and Electric Eyes are classy animals. The former is trained by Ralph Beckett, who sent the Zoustar filly to five starts, out of which Lezoo bagged four. In September, she defeated Meditate in the G1 Cheveley Park Stud Stakes, suggesting her high class; however, she looks like a proper sprinter, so a mile might be too far. Karl Burke’s Electric Eyes, second in a G2 race, should be better suited by the trip, as she’s by Siyouni and should improve for the 2023 season. I quite like her as well as Saeed bin Suroor’s Mawj, winner of the UAE 1000 Guineas.

So… Whom Should you Keep an Eye on?

In 2022, I was impressed by Little Big Bear the most, and I think he’ll showcase his ability in 2023 by scoring the 2000 Guineas in Newmarket. Regarding the 1000 Guineas, I hugely respect Tahiyra, but expect her to thrive more likely in the Irish 1000 Guineas. Therefore, I will wait for the trials and pick a smart filly in a top shape there. Auguste Rodin looks like a favorite (not so hot, though) for the Epsom Derby, yet the 2000 Guineas will tell more of his chances. I’m also curious about Victoria Road, and I’m certain that the mile-long Classic will reveal other interesting names for the Derby and prominent trials like the Dante Stakes.

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Contributing Authors

Michaela Moricova, Past The Wire

Michaela Moricova

Michaela Moricová has been writing about horse racing since high school. At first, only via Facebook, where a group of enthusiasts noticed her and offered...

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