The Long Game: Racing
Our new feature, The Long Game, plans to take a long-term view in the ante-post markets.
- Related Content
Next under the spotlight are the opening Classics of the Flat season - the 1000 and 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.
It is the end of February and there is still an icy chill in the air with the odd flurry of snow - so what better time to look forward to the coming of spring, heralded by two Classic contests at the headquarters of racing.
This is an intriguing and frustrating time in equal measures for ante-post punters looking to eke out a bit of value for the races and perhaps the Derby at Epsom as well.
Those with proven form at the top or near-top level understandably sit at the head of the betting but that also has to be balanced against the rapid progress young horses can make physically and mentally over the winter.
Less obvious candidates on the formbook can blossom as they mature while the idiosyncrasies of the early spring weather in northern Europe can aid a potential candidate with a timely warm spell or hinder if the cool conditions linger.
Then there is the usual minefield of getting a horse to the start in one piece along with trainers having a change of heart and picking a new target - but I have to say I love trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.
Last year's renewal of the 1000 was a good case study.
Homecoming Queen was a 25/1 chance for Aidan O'Brien with market confidence far greater behind favourite and stable companion Maybe, who had proven Group form to her name as a juvenile.
But the former had come to herself just at the right time in the build-up to the race after winning one of the trials in Ireland and while her rivals floundered in soft ground on a miserable afternoon, she was able to take full advantage in a nine-length rout of her field.
A week earlier or a week later and the result may have been totally different and this clearly highlights - like most things in life - how it is all about making the right move at the right time. Just look at her two underwhelming efforts that followed.
So on to this season and it is the 1000 Guineas that looks to offer the better opportunity to get involved at this stage compared to the 2000 and there are two fillies that I am drawn toward.
First up is Dermot Weld's Big Break, who is among the top half-dozen in the betting at 16/1.
She is a full sister to the stable's high-class stalwart Famous Name and is very much at the forefront of my thinking to give her trainer a first success in the race.
Two wins from three starts were her record as a juvenile, rounding off 2012 with an ultra-impressive success in the Group 3 Killavullan Stakes as she trounced Beyond Thankful by almost four lengths.
She will have improve on that form to get into the mix but but it is the manner and style of both that and her maiden success which really marks her down as a potential Group 1 peformer.
And don't take my word for it. Weld is one of the shrewdest operators in the game and remarked after the Killavullan that she "could be a Guineas contender. She is a miler with serious gears".
The above performance was produced on a slower surface at Leopardstown and both Weld and jockey Pat Smullen feel her pace will be seen to much better effect on drier ground.
The fact she was able to pick up so well despite the going bodes extremely well - they always say that good horses handle most any conditions.
We have had one of the soggiest winters for a while but Newmarket does not need long to dry out and you get the impression that may well see Weld give the big race in England serious consideration.
There is no harm in having a two-pronged attack in the race and I am going to chance Luca Cumani's Nargys to make the requisite improvement at 33/1.
She looked to have plenty on her plate from a rating of just 86 when tackling the Rockfel Stakes at Newmarket in October but the fact that she was backed into 5/1 suggested a decent display was in the offing.
She did not disappoint in second behind another exciting performer in Just The Judge and although she closed on the winner quite nicely to the line, she was not given anywhere near a hard time to do so by Kieren Fallon.
Nargys looks a lovely, scopey filly and falls into the category of a horse that can make progress above and beyond her current rating and into a Classic contender. She is certainly in the right hands with Cumani well known for his skilful touch when training the fairer sex.
In terms of the 2000 Guineas, I will explain my position.
I have followed favourite Dawn Approach since his debut success at the Curragh last March and having backed him ante-post for the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot and also this race, I find it hard to look beyond him - rightly or wrongly - for the winner.
Betting on an event in the future can come down to a gut feeling as well as what you see on the racetrack and my instinct is that his trainer Jim Bolger feels this horse is very, very special.
And while I am glad Sheikh Mohammed and Goldolphin feel the same way after purchasing him last season, I have to say I was delighted to see him left in the hands of Bolger to ready him for his Newmarket bid at least.
But although I believe that Dawn Approach will win the 2000 Guineas, that is completely different to suggesting backing him at no better than 7/2 with more than two months to go before the race.
Equally, suggesting a bet on a rival who I think will be playing for second place is rather a waste of time - so I am more than happy to go with the duo in the 1000 and hope we are blessed with that little bit of luck required.