Lydia Hislop's Road to the Classics
Lydia Hislop continues her Road to the Classics as she considers the merits of the Guineas form.
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The theme of the Guineas was to remind us that form can be mutable, especially en route to larger targets. Both Richard Hannon and Andre Fabre, trainers of the two winners Night Of Thunder and Miss France, produced their horses to improve markedly on their seasonal debuts.
Both days also produced strong indicators for the next two classics at Epsom, but none was a Guineas winner and perhaps the most impressive performance wasn't even in either race.
As widely expected, the most encouraging performance for the Epsom classic in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas was Australia's very fine third, 'winning' the race on the stands' side (until the winner, Night Of Thunder, veered sharply left to join him inside the final furlong).
The Aidan O'Brien-trained horse, subject of much glowing praise over the winter, might have been disadvantaged by the race developing away from him but I suspect he ran as well as he could. He handled the Dip beautifully and rightfully hardened as Derby favourite, the task for which he is bred.
Night Of Thunder is also in the Derby and he might stay ten furlongs, but no further. Hopefully, the interest with him will be a rematch with Kingman over a mile in the St James's Palace Stakes. A more conventional pattern of race might suit the runner-up better, but this was a strong renewal of the 2000 Guineas - as it had looked beforehand.
Kingston Hill became outpaced before staying on strongly for eighth. He showed he could handle a faster surface and is likely to improve for his seasonal reappearance. While you would be sure about him progressing at ten furlongs, his stamina for further is uncertain and he has something to find in comparison with Australia.
The muted runs of Toormore and The Grey Gatsby in the Guineas undermined the worth of the Craven form and, having appeared to run well in that race when third, Postponed could duly make little impact in the Newmarket Stakes later on Saturday.
Andrea Atzeni, his rider, again felt he did not handle the Dip and was disappointed. Postponed looks like he'll improve for 12 furlongs, but not at a pace anywhere near quick enough for the Derby. I have mentally torn up my speculative ante-post ticket.
"While Fallon's knowledge and experience will be a much-needed asset to Godolphin, it is a shame that his increased role comes at the cost of the one rider who has consistently delivered for the operation in the past two seasons."
Pinzolo and Cloudscape were also both disappointing, the latter bitterly so. That can't have been his running, even if he is nowhere near Derby material.
On the other hand, Mutakayyef ran well, albeit that he remains without a win to his name. That could be the priority over the Derby itself, for which his stamina is not assured - albeit you could stay he's already outstayed the dam's side of his pedigree.
At maiden level, Wrangler and Min Alemarat look to have plenty of potential - although the former is deemed to require soft ground. Munaaser and Zee Zeely proved their Pontefract form all wrong - something that is increasingly becoming a concern for that track - with wins respectively over a mile at Warwick and ten furlongs at Newmarket.
The big news off the track came (with only the slightest of prompting) from trainer Saeed bin Suroor, who announced that Kieren Fallon would be sharing the role of his stable jockey and riding True Story in the Dante, having worked him on Sunday morning.
This came as news to the role's hitherto incumbent, Silvestre De Sousa, who had also ridden True Story to his impressive Feilden success. While Fallon's knowledge and experience will be a much-needed asset to Godolphin, it is a shame that his increased role comes at the cost of the one rider who has consistently delivered for the operation in the past two seasons.
The most impressive performance on Sunday did not come in a classic but in the supporting Listed Pretty Polly Stakes from the winner, Taghrooda. Given how steadily run the race was, it was all the more impressive that she was able to stretch six lengths clear of her nearest pursuer.
Once again, she handled the Dip readily, which bodes well for Epsom, and her pedigree offers no stamina doubts whatsoever. Whether she had the requisite class and speed was the question for the winter. She has answered those queries in no uncertain terms with Sunday's performance.
John Gosden, her trainer, seemed to be leaning against another quick run for the filly, albeit that he is conscious she has only had two races in her life. He will consider taking her to work at Epsom for the Breakfast With The Stars promotional morning that the track hosts later this month.
Taghrooda is currently best-priced at 11/4 and, if you haven't already been part of the sustained gamble on her over the winter and early spring, I suggest you wait. Personally speaking, odds that small make no appeal ante-post when there are bigger or better priced horses to fancy every day of the week.
Even with the Greenham form reversal fresh in the mind, it's hard to fancy any of her vanquished - Jordan Princess, Sound Reflection, Uchenna, Night Fever and Surcingle - to beat her on the big day.
Jordan Princess shaped as though she is pretty decent, without suggesting she will be as good - let alone better - beyond ten furlongs. Neither Sound Reflection (who was given an odd ride) nor Uchenna handled the Dip but both might well improve for a step up in trip but not at Group One class.
"There are some stayers, inferior in ability to her, amongst her half-siblings and by stallions with only a little more stamina to offer than her sire, Dutch Art. Yet on balance, you wouldn't be confident she'd stay at Epsom."
In the QIPCO 1000 Guineas itself, Lightning Thunder was not as favourably positioned as Miss France, the winner, in a race conducted at a muddling pace. However, she also lacked her tactical speed, getting outpaced in the Dip before finishing strongly, her tail stirring in response to her rider's whip.
There are some stayers, inferior in ability to her, amongst her half-siblings and by stallions with only a little more stamina to offer than her sire, Dutch Art. Yet on balance, you wouldn't be confident she'd stay at Epsom. A strong-looking filly, she was one of the better lookers in Sunday's field, though.
Ihtimal earned a similarly positive paddock note, having filled out over the winter. Her form already suggested she had improved since her juvenile days and her third proved that progress was not merely down to a liking of a synthetic track.
Bin Suroor, her trainer, was notably bullish about her Oaks prospects in the moments after the race. However, it's hard to take any encouragement from her pedigree for the task of staying 12 furlongs. Ten furlongs would appear to be her limit.
It was bizarre to see Tapestry backed into 4/1 favourite in the minutes prior to the off, given her far-from-appealing paddock appearance. I described her as "very fit, sparely made, lean". Her popularity was probably more a product of the lack of confidence in any previous market leaders.
She lost her position quickly in the Dip and was eased immediately. Trainer Aidan O'Brien has since stated that he regrets running her and plans to "give her a break and try to get the condition back on her". She must be a doubtful Oaks runner. To my mind, her appearance and demeanour only lend weight to my concern that, like her dam and siblings, she has not trained on.
Stablemate Bracelet, who finished 14th, did not enhance her Oaks claims as I expected. She looked well in her coat and was relaxed beforehand but got outpaced and made little impact. She may well stay 12 furlongs but she isn't good enough on this showing.
Rizeena was on her toes, sweating and then increasingly edgy in the paddock prior to her seasonal debut in the Guineas. She was a little keen in the race and could only keep on at the one pace. She may be more effective short of a mile. Neither pedigree nor temperament offers Oaks encouragement.
Potential American raider Rosalind finished a staying-on fourth in the Kentucky Oaks last Friday. Kenny McPeek, her trainer, had been mulling over her European options prior to that Churchill Downs race, which also include the Ribblesdale or Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.
He is keen to return her to turf racing - something she hasn't encountered since her debut.