The Guineas weekend always feels a little like going back to school after the summer holidays. You’ve had a few months off. You haven’t seen your class-mates in a while and you’ve to see how they’ve changed over the extended break. ‘He’s got a haircut’, ‘he’s been at the Opal Fruits a bit too much’, ‘he’s finally learned what ‘vagina’ means’ – those sort of snap judgements.
There’s a tenuous parallel to the Guineas races. The form of this classic generation was there for all to see last season, but it’s arguably not the biggest consideration. How the growing youngsters have grown up during the off-season is of major importance. Some will have developed impressively whilst others will have to make do with comments like ‘ah not to worry, you’ll have a growth spurt very soon I’m sure’.
The poor recent record of favourites in the 2000 Guineas shows that it’s not all about the form in the book. Last year, Frankel obliged as favourite by producing one of the great Guineas performances, but George Washington in 2006 was the only other market leader to deliver in the last 10 runnings of the race. The average SP of the winner over that stretch is a shade over 10/1. It’s nothing conclusive, but it does say blindly backing the favourite has generally been as successful as giving Charlie Sheen a big bag of drugs.
Camelot is the one to be shot at at the top of the market. He won the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster last October in a way that suggested there’s much more to come from him. The soft ground we’re likely to get is a concern. Not exclusively for Ballydoyle’s main hope, but his jockey, Joseph O’Brien did voice some concerns. The Aidan O’Brien trained favourite is still expected to handle the ground better than others. With Montjeu as his daddy (the horse, not the jockey), he should have the stamina even if it’s a more testing eight furlongs than we normally see at Newmarket.
Trumpet Major is one contender that looks to have been munching back his greens in the off-season. He signed off his two year old campaign with a creditable fifth in the Dewhurst, but looked a much better horse when winning the Craven Stakes at Newmarket by five lengths a couple of weeks ago. In the last couple of decades, winning the Craven has rarely been a sign that you’re a nailed on shoe-in for the 2,000 Guineas. It’s happened just twice since 1990 although encouragingly, Trumpet Major’s trainer, Richard Hannon claimed one of those wins campaigning Tirol to victory in both Newmarket assignments.
Racing in the recognisable colours of Sea The Stars, Born To Sea will command plenty of attention. The fact he’s also a close relative to the dominant force of the 2009 Classic generation will add to the attention. The half-brother to John Oxx’s superstar amassed a respectable if unspectacular record last season, but so did his sibling, so maybe there’s some improvement due. His subsequent brilliance makes it easy to forget, but Sea The Stars went to post an 8/1 sixth favourite for his Guineas. Like Emilo Estevez to his Charlie Sheen, Born To Sea may never reach the fame of his brother, but he doesn’t have to forge a perfectly successful career for himself.
One lurking in the long grass is Top Offer. He won his maiden comfortably in Newbury last August and was promptly wrapped up in cotton wool for an extended break. That one run and long spell off the track makes him the least experienced and rustiest of the runners. But a bit like perving on Zooey Deschanel, it’s the weirdness that will make him even more attractive to some.
Abtaal and French Fifteen lead the charge from the more cheese-loving side of the Channel. They’re both interesting outsiders because they’ve both notched up wins on the softer surface. Abtaal is the shorter price for the race, but he lost to French Fifteen last month. He also beat French Fifteen more convincingly towards the end of last season so maybe their position in the market is justified.
On Sunday, the fillies take centre stage for the 1000 Guineas and the ‘growth over the winter’ question is just as pertinent. Again it’s a short-priced Aidan O’Brien runner who ticks all the boxes. Maybe has been incredibly impressive in winning all five of her races to date, but she hasn’t raced since last season. On the form, she’s the one they all have to beat, but as mentioned before, a lot will depend on how the youngsters have grown up. The form suggests Lyric Of Light is more vulnerable than her rival, but she does have a win over course and distance under her belt. If she’s bulked, she might be able to close the gap, but contradicting that argument is the fact Maybe is the oldest of the three year olds.