Mark Johnston is hoping the colt he describes as being “the spitting image” of his dam Attraction can deliver a third British Classic success for the stable when Elarqam lines up in the Qipco 2000 Guineas on Newmarket’s Rowley Mile on Saturday May 5.
Now a trainer for more than 30 years, Johnston said today that no horse had given him as much pleasure as Attraction, the winner of 10 of her 15 races, including the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, its Irish equivalent, and three other Group One prizes.
Elarqam, a 6/1 chance with Sky Bet, comes into the contest with an unblemished record from two runs, most recently when taking the Group Three Tattersalls Stakes at the Rowley Mile last September.
And, having taken the colt for a racecourse gallop at Newmarket during the Craven Meeting, the trainer reported himself pleased with the build-up to the Classic.
"It wasn’t exactly a hard piece of work, and he hardly ended up seeing the other two horses, but he needed the experience of a day out and it’s a concern for me going into the 2000 Guineas with only two runs under his belt," he said.
"In actual fact, it was a piece of work he'd done here under Joe Fanning with Mildenberger (winner of the bet365 Feilden Stakes at the Craven meeting0 that was the most important. Joe said he was really pleased with that and felt he'd really come on mentally over the winter.
"Elarqam has to improve but I have a lot of faith of in his ability. And in a lot of ways it's more exciting than it was with Attraction as being by Frankel out of Attraction, he's the best-bred horse I’ve ever trained, the best-bred horse by a country mile that I have ever taken to a Classic.
"The implications of what sort of stallion he would be, or how popular he might be as a stallion, if he won the Qipco 2000 Guineas don’t bear thinking about.
"After he won his second race, Sheikh Hamdan said that would be for it for the season. I might have run him once more, perhaps in the Royal Lodge, but Sheikh Hamdan made that call.
"At that time, he and Jim Crowley both believed firmly that Elarqam would want a mile and a quarter this year, so we are going to the Qipco 2000 Guineas saying 'This is maybe not the whole story' but the Guineas is the best Derby trial and if he was not to finish in the first three, you could well see him going on to the Dante and possibly to Epsom. That would not be impossible at all.
"The reality is that the Classics are still the most important races in the calendar and the hardest to win. But, on everything I have seen so far, I do have faith in his ability."
"Elarqam is the absolute spitting image of Attraction. If you could draw a blueprint of what a colt out of Attraction would look like, you'd draw him. It’s a huge pleasure to be sent the offspring of Attraction to train.
"Up to date, I think she’s had 11 foals and this was only the third that we had been sent – the first two were winners, both good horses – and we’ve now also got a Dubawi two-year-old which Sheikh Hamdan has kindly sent to us."
Similarly to Elarqam, Attraction went into the 1000 Guineas without a prep-run having just had a racecourse gallop at Ripon, but the filly was stronger on racecourse experience having won all five starts as a juvenile.
"This is nothing like it was with Attraction when she won the 1000 Guineas," Johnston explained. "On that day, I believed that if she stayed, she would win. At that stage with Attraction, I firmly believed she was the best filly in Europe."
Johnston also intends to saddle Cardsharp, the winner of the Arqana July Stakes and placed repeatedly at the highest level during a busy juvenile campaign.
The colt has only had one start this season, when well beaten at Deauville earlier this month, but Johnston explained: "It was a pretty awful run in pretty awful ground. You could argue the case for him having another run before the Guineas, but the owners have said they want to see.
"The horse has got plenty of form at the highest level. Take out his bad run at Deauville and he only had one other disappointing performance in the Dewhurst, when he was unlucky.
"He was always running against the best horses and he brings Group One form into the race but we don't know – we don’t know about trip and we don’t know if he’s good enough. He could well be a sprinter, but he'll go to the 2000 Guineas and we’ll hopefully find out more."