The Irish Guineas Festival takes centre stage at the Curragh this weekend and our Richard Mann and Matt Brocklebank tackle some of the key questions.
With the big guns set to lock horns in the Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas on Saturday, are you in the Magna Grecia or Too Darn Hot camp?
Richard Mann: It's Magna Grecia for me. This horse has done nothing wrong, winning a decent renewal of the Vertem Futurity last year before landing the English 2000 Guineas in good style, and yet he still doesn't seem to get the credit he deserves. Plenty have questioned whether Magna Grecia was favoured by racing close to the stands' rail at Newmarket but he quickened up in the manner of a high-class colt that day and I fancy him to complete the Guineas double and enhance Aidan O'Brien's fine record in this particular race. Too Darn Hot's participation adds a fascinating dimension to the weekend as a whole but last season's champion two-year-old had a hard race when beaten in the Dante and might just struggle to scale last year's heights this time around.
Matt Brocklebank: Magna Grecia probably got close to Too Darn Hot's two-year-old best when winning the Guineas but he's not quite on that level just yet and at the prices I'd be inclined to side with the Gosden runner. You'd be hard pressed so say the son of Dubawi was just a precocious juvenile based on his one-length second to Telecaster in a red-hot renewal of the Dante at York. Frankie Dettori was in no doubt straight after the race that dropping back to a mile will see this horse in a much better light and it's a really positive sign that he's lining up this weekend as he must have taken the race in his stride. Magna Grecia wasn't necessarily suited by being towards the stands' rail but he clearly benefited from chasing a seriously strong pace in the smaller group at Newmarket and it's too soon to suggest he's going to a world-beating miler. Personally, I'd be keen to see if Skardu runs as he performed really well in the circumstances at Newmarket and his potent turn of foot will be a weapon against any of these if lining up.
Can anyone or anything stop Aidan O’Brien from dominating another Classic in the Tattersalls Irish 1,000 Guineas on Sunday?
Richard Mann: Qabala and East bid to take the prize back to England and the former ran a cracker when third to Hermosa in the English 1000 Guineas. Typically for a daughter of Galileo, Hermosa has clearly done well for another winter on her back and she should take some stopping once again, though stablemate Just Wonderful might give her something to think about this time. She was a winner at Group Three and Group Two level last term and was doing her best work at the finish when sixth at Newmarket. She should take a big step forward this weekend and don't be surprised if O'Brien dominates the podium again.
Matt Brocklebank: Hermosa looks a very strong stayer at a mile and it'll be interesting to see if she tries to dominate from the outset again. It's no surprise to see the Varian camp keen to have another crack at her with Qabala as she got a bump at a crucial stage at Newmarket. I'd fancy Just Wonderful to come on sufficiently to beat the pair of them, though, and she's my main bet at this stage with all due respect to East who would have to come into the reckoning if there's any rain around come declaration time.
Magical should prove very hard to beat in the Tattersalls Gold Cup but do you envisage her realistically putting it up to the likes of Enable and Sea Of Class later in the season?
Richard Mann: In truth, this year's edition looks another poor renewal of the Tattersalls Gold Cup and it's surely only Aidan O'Brien's continued support of the race that ensures it keeps its Group One status. Magical will be the star attraction this time around and having won at Group One level and finished second to Enable at the Breeders' Cup in the autumn, she has resumed in fine order this season. For my money, she looks an improved filly 12 months on I would love to see her have another crack at Enable. I suspect Aidan O'Brien would, too.
Matt Brocklebank: Magical has this weekend's Group One at her mercy with stablemates Flag Of Honour and I Can Fly the only ones who could possibly touch her, though the former needs further ideally and I Can Fly looks an unlikely runner just a week on from her decent effort in the Lockinge. As for Enable, John Gosden's star beat Magical twice last year and did so in America in spite of significant traffic problems so it looks too much to ask. Sea Of Class may also have just too many gears for Magical should they meet later in the season but it's certainly a clash to look forward to.
Speak In Colours looked a sprinter of considerable promise last summer and kicks off his season in the Weatherbys Ireland Greenlands Stakes on Saturday. Could he yet develop into a Diamond Jubilee contender?
Richard Mann: He is a really interesting horse for this season and, for a sprinter, is still very lightly raced having only raced nine times, three of those coming for his previous trainer. Joseph O'Brien took him under his care last season and an impressive Group Three success here at the Curragh was followed by a fair effort in the Haydock Sprint Cup subsequently. He was thrown in at the deep end on that occasion but acquitted himself well and he wouldn't be the first sprinter to take a big step forward as a four-year-old. It will be fascinating to see how he fares on Saturday.
Matt Brocklebank: The Brits have done well in the Greenlands Stakes over the years, the likes of Dandy Nicholls, David Evans, Henry Candy, David Barron and Mick Channon all taking the prize back over the sea, and Donjuan Triumphant and Mr Lupton could lead the charge this time around. Speak In Colours is the one they have to beat but keep an eye out for the Richard Fahey column this week as Mr Lupton can go well fresh and he's a very solid horse at this kind of level.
Ahead of a huge weekend of racing in Ireland, it is sad to know that Dermot Weld’s horses will never again be ridden by the recently-retired Pat Smullen. How would you assess how the likes of Oisin Orr and Chis Hayes have done so far in trying to replace him?
Richard Mann: They say all good things come to an end but it's so sad to know that we won't see Pat Smullen riding in the biggest races for his biggest ally again. His longstanding relationship with Dermot Weld has become synonymous with Irish Flat racing and the likes of Oisin Orr and Chris Hayes have big boots to fill, that's for sure. Orr is a huge, young talent who could really blossom under Weld's tutelage, much in the same way Smullen did, while the decision to call on the services of Hayes looks a shrewd move. Hayes is a terrific jockey, strong and smart, and he has enough big-race experience to handle the pressures of riding some of the star names that Weld will be undoubtedly have through his hands in the next few years.
Matt Brocklebank: Smullen's departure leaves a big hole but thankfully there looks to be a wealth of hungry, young riders emerging in Ireland and Oisin Orr is particularly promising. He's really impressed on the likes of Alfredo Arcano and Wild Shot on the all-weather at Dundalk and he's taken that improvement into the turf season quite seamlessly. He's two from two on Weld's Oasis Dream colt Imaging this spring and this could be a horse going places with an entry in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot showing just how highly thought of he is.