First destination reached

  • By: Lydia Hislop
  • Last Updated: May 1 2014, 15:12 BST

On the eve of the Guineas Festival, Lydia Hislop continues her Road To The Classics series.

Western Hymn: Gained more valuable experience at Sandown
Western Hymn: Gained more valuable experience at Sandown

It’s been a relatively quiet week on the Classic road, with the Guineas almost in touching distance. Nonetheless, the first two classics took firmer shape and there was plenty to be learned for Epsom.

QIPCO 2000 Guineas

Monday's five-day declarations whittled the field down to 17, of which four are trained by Aidan O’Brien: the much-vaunted Australia, Giovanni Baldini, Oklahoma City and War Command. Excitingly, O’Brien indicated that the plan is to run both the first- and last-named horses and not just one of them.

None will have had a prep run when stepping out at Newmarket on Saturday and the wisdom of recent years is that Team Ballydoyle tend to find plenty of improvement as a result of their seasonal debut.

That said, if Triple Crown ambitions are afoot for Australia, this leg is surely his most challenging from a pedigree point of view.

Sadly, Godolphin have chosen to withdraw True Story and instead rely on Outstrip, last seen winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in Santa Anita last November. He has almost three lengths to find with War Command on their Dewhurst running. He also needs to handle the Dip more fluently.

Two French raiders potentially remain, both hailing from the Prix Djebel: Charm Spirit, the winner, and Bookrunner, the fourth. The former might well stay a mile in top company but needs to improve quite a bit.

Bookrunner is trained by Mikel Delzangles, who won the 2010 Guineas with Makfi on that horse’s third start, using the Djebel as his stepping-stone (in his case, winning it). This horse took a big step forward last time and could well improve markedly again, albeit he’ll need to.

Maureen Haggas indicated at Epsom last Wednesday that she and husband William are inclined to have a go at the Guineas with Ertijaal. She believes the extra furlong will be a positive.

Meanwhile, John Gosden, Kingman’s trainer, observed that the ante-post favourite would certainly run at Newmarket on “safe” ground.

Michael Prosser, Newmarket’s director of racing, currently describes the going as “good-to-firm” and put 4-5mm of water on it on Monday, the course having largely evaded any rain since it was last irrigated on the Wednesday of the Craven meeting.

He hopes the 4-6mm of rain forecast for Thursday will mean he does not have to water again and his objective is to produce “ground on the top side of good”, as he did for the Craven. The going-stick reading will be released on Wednesday ahead of the next day’s final declarations. We will know a lot more then.

QIPCO 1000 Guineas

There are 28 five-day declarations for the 1000 Guineas, the larger field no doubt reflecting the less daunting profile of the main contenders. There ain’t no Kingman – or even a Toormore, Australia, War Command or Kingston Hill – here.

Two horses, expected to be routed elsewhere, are now heading to Newmarket: J Wonder, who was scheduled to run in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches, and Euro Charline, who was supplemented here at a cost of £30,000.

The latter’s trainer, Marco Botti, believes she’d have “won the Nell Gwyn with a clear run”, which I doubt, and the extra furlong is just as much of a worry for her as it for the winner, Sandiva. Brian Meehan reports J Wonder has “improved since Newbury”.

Amazing Maria worked seven-and-a-half furlongs with stablemates, Times Up and Hanno, on the Rowley Mile last Friday. The Prestige winner reportedly came from off the pace to ‘win’ the gallop by a couple of lengths.

Olivier Peslier, who will also ride her in the Guineas (a positive), reported: “They went a nice gallop, she came through the others to finish in front and she was looking about at the end. I would say they would need to go a good gallop in the Guineas as she hasn’t the instant acceleration of Vorda, whom I won the Cheveley Park on last year.”

Amazing Maria’s experience of Goodwood should hold her in good stead for the Dip at Newmarket. Her dam side raises some questions about stepping up to a mile, however.

The most interesting absentee is the John Gosden-trained Dorothy B, who was hampered in the Nell Gwyn. It is eye-catching that her once-raced stable companion, Betimes, has stood her ground and William Buick is already jocked up. She also has a Coronation Stakes entry.

She was an impressive winner of a Lingfield polytrack maiden in December by four lengths. Although there is plenty of speed and all-weather influence in her pedigree, there is also more than enough encouragement to say she’ll make the transition to a mile on turf.

Declan McDonagh has been assigned to ride the John Oxx-trained My Titania as usual. This filly provided Sea The Stars with his first-ever Group winner as a sire last September and improved with each start. Her sire offers hope of staying a mile, clearly, but she’ll need to improve for it.

Investec Derby

Western Hymn answered some questions, at least partly, and raised some more with his victory in Sandown’s Classic Trial last Friday.

He got more (highly necessary) experience of racing and should have learned plenty in winning after having been put under pressure in very testing ground. In six round-course races, he was the only horse to make ground from the rear to win on a day on which prominently positioned horses dominated.

"He should have learned plenty in winning after having been put under pressure in very testing ground. In six round-course races, he was the only horse to make ground from the rear to win on a day on which prominently positioned horses dominated."

However, again he demonstrated a high head-carriage and was inclined both to lug in behind when first asked to challenge and to wander away from the whip when in front. All of this might be put down to babyishness, but even so that’s a lot to assimilate in six weeks.

Running in the Dante will help on that score. Yet you need not just to be the best in the Derby but also man enough early enough in your life to deal with the razzamatazz, the idiosyncratic course and its stamina demands.

John Gosden, his trainer, was more convinced about him staying 12f as a result of this performance than beforehand. Of course, Epsom’s mile and a half is the stiffest test in Britain and Ireland at Group One level so, although this evidence lessens that concern, it doesn’t entirely dismiss it.

While acknowledging that Western Hymn bends his knee quite a bit, Gosden believes he’s well balanced enough for Epsom. (It certainly didn’t stop Ruler Of The World last year, after all.) More evidence can be gathered at York about whether his messing around will be his undoing in deeper company.

The Sandown defeated, Impulsive Moment and Red Galileo, lack his class at ten furlongs – although the former might be a St Leger prospect.

In the Investec Derby Trial at Epsom on Wednesday, Our Channel secured a win-and-you’re-in ticket to the main event under a beautifully judged ride from Ryan Moore that probably made the difference between victory and defeat. This relatively small horse has plenty of guts but probably neither the requisite stamina nor class for the Derby.

Hartnell finished distressed, which would probably explain his running about in the closing stages and behaviour uncharacteristic to the eye of Deirdre Johnston in his demeanour to post and early on in the race. Signposted might have finished closer but for Hartnell’s waywardness but the form simply isn’t good enough.

Investec Oaks

An impressive win from Shamkala in a Longchamp conditions event last Thursday saw her take a prominent position in this ante-post market. She looks smart and the stamina running through her dam side suggests she should stay 12f, even if her dad is Pivotal. He sired Sariska, after all.

She might well take her next start, a step up in grade, in her stride but it is not her trainer Alain De Royer Dupre’s style to contest the Oaks. He is yet to have a runner, despite having trained many a suitable candidate and entered a few in the past.

Behind her in third was Sinnamary, trained by Delzangles and closely related to the Aidan O’Brien-trained Irish Oaks winner, Chicquita. Like Shamkala, she is lightly raced and should improve for a step up in trip but was outclassed by the winner.

Talmada belied stamina doubts to get off the mark at the third attempt over 12 furlongs at Haydock on Saturday. She had previously been third to Bright Approach at Newbury and is going the right way at a quiet level. A step up in grade awaits.

When I interviewed Gosden on Racing UK last Friday, he contradicted both newspaper reports and the official reason given in Sandown’s weighing-room for the non-appearance of Taghrooda in the closing ten-furlong handicap. He said it was “entirely” due to the soft ground.

He had wanted to run the inexperienced filly there because the spacing of that race fitted in better with an intended additional run in either the Musidora or Newbury’s Oaks Trial prior to Epsom. As with Western Hymn, he is keen that this horse garners the experience necessary for that June test.

However, equally, he did not want her to have a likely tough race at Sandown, conceding weight to colts in deep ground, as her seasonal debut. The plan is now that she contests the Pretty Polly at Newmarket on Sunday, the race won by last year’s Oaks heroine, Talent.