Get all the latest news and views from connections ahead of the first Classic of the season on Saturday; the QIPCO 2000 Guineas.
Aidan O’Brien is triple-handed in his bid for an 11th victory in the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on Saturday.
It is 23 years since the Ballydoyle maestro first landed the Rowley Mile Classic with King Of Kings, since when he has added to his tally with the likes of Rock of Gibraltar (2002), George Washington (2006), Camelot (2012) and, most recently, Magna Grecia (2019).
Each of the trainer’s three candidates this year boast strong credentials, with Ryan Moore preferring Wembley over stablemates Battleground and Van Gogh.
Wembley makes his first appearance since being narrowly beaten by another O’Brien-trained colt, St Mark’s Basilica, in the Dewhurst at Newmarket in October.
“The plan with Wembley was always to come back here after the Dewhurst last year,” said the trainer.
“Everything went well with him during the winter and through the spring. Ryan knows him well and we’re very happy with him really.
“He got caught in bad ground in a few races last season and really progressed as he went on. Our horses were a little bit slow to hand last year, with the season being a bit messy, and it all happened a little bit too quick for some of them.”
As a son of his Arc heroine Found, O’Brien has always had a soft spot for Battleground, who will be ridden by Frankie Dettori.
Winner of the Chesham at Royal Ascot and the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood last summer, the War Front colt rounded off his juvenile campaign by finishing second at the Breeders’ Cup.
O’Brien said: “Battleground is a big, long-striding horse who ran very well in America. He just got caught in a little bit of traffic early and was maybe a bit further back than Ryan would have liked, but he ran home very well.
“He’s by War Front, so he should like the ground. He seems in good form and we think he’s ready to start off.
“Found was a big mare and very genuine. Battleground is a big horse, too – he’s a very high cruiser, which she was as well.
“Frankie is a great rider and we’re delighted to have him.”
Van Gogh, the mount of Seamie Heffernan, is the only one of the trio to have already struck Group One gold, having landed the Criterium International in testing conditions at Saint-Cloud last autumn.
O’Brien does not expect the forecast fast ground at Newmarket to be an issue, adding: “Van Gogh ran on fastish ground early on and finished at Saint-Cloud on very soft to heavy ground. I think it’s just the way the season worked out and the way the ground was.
“He’s a good-moving horse and we always thought he’d get further than a mile. We’re hoping that he’ll be OK (on the ground).
“You can make very strong cases for them all – they all have their pluses and minuses.
“I’d say it would be a very hard one to split.”
Aidan O’Brien’s son Joseph, who won the 2000 Guineas as a rider aboard Camelot, has high hopes of breaking his duck as a trainer in the first Classic of the season with Thunder Moon.
The son of Zoffany had Wembley behind him when winning last season’s National Stakes at the Curragh, but that form was reversed in the Dewhurst, with Thunder Moon having to settle for third place.
O’Brien junior feels the prevailing soft ground contributed to that defeat and is delighted with how his charge has progressed since.
He said: “Thunder Moon is really good, wintered very well and had a really good season last year. He ran a really good race in the Dewhurst when the ground was as slow as he would have liked.
“This race has been the plan, he’s going in good shape, we’re happy with the draw (stall 10) and we’re looking forward to the race.
“In the Dewhurst, we would have preferred better ground and a better draw. He travelled well and quickened up well, but just got run out of it. We thought better ground and a better draw would have helped us get closer and we’re hoping that might happen at the weekend.
“He’s always shown a lot of pace, he has a big turn of foot, which he showed on the track last year, and he’s working satisfactorily at home. Please god, he can prove himself a high-class colt this season.
“We’re excited, we think he’s the right type for the race – he’s a mature, pacey type and we think a mile is a good trip for him.
“Wembley is probably the obvious danger as he was very consistent last season.”
Charlie Appleby is finding it tough to split Master Of The Seas and One Ruler in their respective bids for Qipco 2000 Guineas glory.
The Newmarket handler would love to win the Rowley Mile Classic for the first time on Saturday – and feels his two leading contenders give him a strong chance of doing so.
William Buick has sided with Master Of The Seas following his course-and-distance triumph in the Craven Stakes little over a fortnight ago, leaving James Doyle to pick up the ride on One Ruler on his seasonal reappearance.
“I’m delighted with the way Master Of The Seas has come out of the Craven. He’s shown us his wellness during the week – William sat on him on Wednesday and was pleased with him,” said Appleby.
“He ticks a lot of the boxes going into the weekend. I couldn’t be any happier with him and I’m looking forward to seeing him run.
“We’re taking on the same conditions as in the Craven in terms of it’s going to be quick ground again. We know he handles that and handles the track, and he saw the trip out well, so I always felt it was going to be hard for William to get off him.”
One Ruler has not been seen in competitive action since filling the runner-up spot in the Vertem Futurity Trophy at Doncaster in October, but is reported to be in rude health by his trainer.
Appleby added: “I’m pleased with One Ruler’s preparation. He looks great and he’s ready.
“James is excited to be riding him. He was in a good position, waiting on William’s decision, and he was always going to be happy to jump on either horse.
“They’re two different types of horses. Master Of The Seas is a very honest traveller on the bridle, whereas One Ruler is a horse who warms into his race.
“I’m excited to see One Ruler have his first start as a three-year-old. The two horses have got different run styles, but in respect of the calibre of each horse, I think they’re hard to split.”
Appleby has a third string to his bow in outsider Naval Crown.
The son of Dubawi inflicted a shock defeat on Master Of The Seas in Dubai earlier in the year, before being beaten a neck by the Queen’s Tactical on his return to Newmarket in the Free Handicap.
Appleby feels Naval Crown could outrun his odds, saying: “We left him in the Guineas for a reason. Master Of The Seas was entitled to come forward from the run at Meydan and did come forward, but Naval Crown beat him fair and square.
“He’s been a rock solid little performer who brings an abundance of experience to the table, and I think the step back up to a mile is going to suit him.”
The Charlie Hills-trained Mutasaabeq was mightily impressive when winning a conditions race at the Craven meeting, which ultimately led to connections supplementing for the Guineas earlier this week.
“He seems to have come out of his Newmarket race really well. Jim (Crowley) came and sat on him on Wednesday and said he felt very relaxed and in good shape,” said Hills.
“We were trying to nurse him through his career, but his ability has got him where he is now. He’s only had two runs, but they’ve both been at Newmarket – so he’s got more experience than most on a course like that.
“It’s always encouraging to see horses win the way he did, but he’d done nothing wrong at all in his homework. He was working with the very nice horses at home and worked well with them. Winning by six lengths is nice to see – but did it surprise me? Possibly not.
“It goes without saying he becomes a very valuable proposition should he win a Guineas, being out of a Guineas winner.”
Richard Hannon is keen on the chances of Chindit, whose only defeat in five starts came when disappointing in the Dewhurst over seven furlongs here in October.
The Wootton Bassett colt got back on the winning trail on his return in the Greenham Stakes at Newbury a fortnight ago.
“I think he’s a Group One horse now – if he wins the Guineas or not – and they are hard to find,” said Hannon.
“I feel he’s quite intelligent, he knows when he’s done enough. What pleased me in the Greenham was it looked like he was only getting going when he crossed the line. He looks like he wants a mile, which is great.
“He’s done all his winning on flat tracks like Ascot, Newbury and Doncaster – and this is vastly different. I don’t know if he enjoyed the Dewhurst, but I’m fairly sure that was down to the ground.
“The race will have turned him on, I think, just got him going. He travels a lot easier now at home.”
We are committed in our support of safer gambling. Recommended bets are advised to over-18s and we strongly encourage readers to wager only what they can afford to lose.
If you are concerned about your gambling, please call the National Gambling Helpline / GamCare on 0808 8020 133.