Donn McClean: Zihba the one | Irish 2000 Guineas preview

Zihba goes on to win the Amethyst Stakes
Zihba goes on to win the Amethyst Stakes

Donn McClean runs through the leading contenders in the Irish 2000 Guineas and says Fozzy Stack's Zihba is the one to be on.

You begin your analysis of the Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas with the Qipco 2000 Guineas. That’s the rule. Churchill completed the Guineas double last year. Gleneagles completed the Guineas double in 2015. Henrythenavigator completed the Guineas double in 2008.

Kingman was beaten a half a length by Night Of Thunder at Newmarket in 2014 before going one better at The Curragh. Canford Cliffs finished third behind Makfi at Newmarket in 2010, Mastercraftsman finished fifth behind Sea The Stars at Newmarket in 2009, and both came over to The Curragh three weeks later and landed the Irish Guineas. Even Power and Roderic O’Connor, both well beaten in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, had the class to bounce back and win at The Curragh.

So eight of the last 10 Irish 2000 Guineas winners had run in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.

It makes sense. Logic dictates that the Qipco 2000 Guineas, run, as it usually is, three weeks before the Tattersalls Irish 2000 Guineas, should have a major influence on events at The Curragh.

That obviously points to Elarqam and Gustav Klimt today. Both horses were high-class juveniles, both dual winners at two, both Group winners at two. Elarqam finished fourth at Newmarket, two lengths behind Saxon Warrior and one and a half lengths in front of Gustav Klimt in sixth, and it is not surprising that Mark Johnston’s horse has been put in as favourite for today’s race.

By Frankel (a Guineas winner) out of Attraction (a Guineas winner), Sheikh Hamdan’s colt was unbeaten in two runs last season. He did not make his racecourse debut until last September, when he was impressive in winning his maiden at York, and he followed up by landing the Group 3 Tattersalls Somerville Stakes at Newmarket, when he had Guineas runner-up Tip Two Win two lengths behind him in second place.

The intention was always for him to make his seasonal debut in the 2000 Guineas, and he ran well there to finish fourth. He was a little keen early on, and he just appeared to get a little tapped for toe as they quickened into the Dip before keeping on to finish fourth.

There is every chance that he will improve for that run, it was his seasonal debut and just his third race ever. However, he is short and, a son of Frankel, he may improve for going beyond a mile. It is interesting that he holds an entry in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot as well as in the St James’s Palace Stakes. Also, both of his wins last season were gained on ground that was easier than the ground that he will probably encounter today.

It was a little disappointing that Gustav Klimt could only finish sixth at Newmarket. Aidan O’Brien’s horse overcame a poor run through the race to land the Group 2 Superlative Stakes at Newmarket last July on his final run at two, and he had had a run this term. He did very well to beat the talented Imaging in the Guineas Trial at Leopardstown in April on ground that should have been far softer than ideal for him. He just didn’t step forward at Newmarket as you expected him to. It is significant too that Ryan Moore has chosen to ride his stable companion U S Navy Flag in his stead.

U S Navy Flag obviously merits close scrutiny. The War Front colt raced 10 times last season and, remarkably, he appeared to improve with just about every single run before he disappointed on his final run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on dirt, which you can obviously easily allow.

His third best run in Europe last season on Timeform ratings was on his third last run, when he won the Group 3 Round Tower Stakes at The Curragh in August. His second best was on his second last run, when he won the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket. And his best run in Europe last season was his last, when he won the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes.

He was well beaten in the Guineas Trial that Gustav Klimt won on unsuitably heavy ground at Leopardstown on his debut this season, and he only finished fifth in the French 2000 Guineas last time, but he was drawn wide that day and, more importantly, he stumbled just before the home turn. He probably did very well to finish as close as he did.

There is every chance that the Ballydoyle colt will step forward significantly from his run at Longchamp, and he should love the ground. He is a big player, but 3/1 is probably about right.

Symbolization is interesting, the time that he clocked in winning a handicap on 2000 Guineas day at Newmarket was only marginally slower than the time that Saxon Warrior clocked in winning the Guineas, and the Godolphin colt was carrying 7lb more. That was just his fourth run too. He could progress from it.

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Last RunWatch last race

Zihba is marginally more interesting though. Fozzy Stack’s colt did not make his racecourse debut until last December, three days before Christmas, when he ran on well in a seven-furlong maiden at Dundalk to beat the experienced Godolphin colt Port Lions, the pair of them coming nicely clear of their rivals.

He returned to Dundalk in March when, sent off at long odds-on despite conceding buckets of weight to all his rivals, and stepped up in trip to a mile, again he kept on well to win nicely in the end.

The Choisir colt stepped forward significantly from that last time, when he beat his elders in the Group 3 Amethyst Stakes. He made good progress around the home turn that day for Chris Hayes, he picked up nicely to hit the front at the furlong pole, and he kept on well all the way to the line to get him by a length and a half from the now 105-rated Pincheck, with the 108-rated True Valour back in third place.

Snapped up by Al Shaqab Racing after that win, Zihba is going to have to improve again if he is going to win an Irish Guineas, he has 9lb to find on official ratings with U S Navy Flag, but there is every chance that he can. That was just his third race ever, it was his first run in six weeks, and there is a sense that we haven’t got to the bottom of him yet. He has a good willing attitude, he stays a mile well, he goes well on this good, fast ground, and he has never been beaten. He could be a little over-priced at 8/1.

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