Ben Linfoot reflects on the QIPCO 2000 Guineas as Jim Bolger landed the season's first Classic for a second time, while our man looks for clues amongst the beaten horses.
Young men like Joseph O’Brien and young women like Rachael Blackmore and Hollie Doyle have dominated the headlines in the racing world over the past year, but Saturday’s QIPCO 2000 Guineas went to a wily old veteran winning his 10th Classic.
Jim Bolger will be 80 on Christmas Day - and if he is used to doubling up on presents then he might well expect to have another gift to unwrap at Epsom in June if all goes well with his Cazoo Derby hopeful Mac Swiney.
Winning the Guineas with POETIC FLARE will certainly help in the confidence department, particularly with Bolger admitting it was a tough decision regarding which one of his three-year-old colts to bring to Newmarket on the first Saturday in May.
With age comes experience, though, and Bolger made the right call to win his second 2000 Guineas – a race he described on the phone as “the best race in the world.”
Bolger didn’t make it to Newmarket this time around, but he was here eight years ago when Dawn Approach, Poetic Flare’s sire, won the Guineas by five lengths and he was here five years before that when New Approach, Poetic Flare’s grandsire, was second in this race to Henrythenavigator by a nose.
“To my mind, when you win the 2000 Guineas it means something,” he said.
“He’s the complete package. He’s right up there with the best we’ve had.
“It was not an easy decision [on whether to run Poetic Flare or Mac Swiney in the Guineas] as we can’t split them at home.
“But you have to have belief in your horse and your decisions.”
Bolger certainly had belief in Poetic Flare, even after he was left trailing in the Dewhurst at this track last year where he finished 10th, beaten eight-and-three-quarter lengths by St Mark’s Basilica.
“It was a blessing in disguise,” Bolger said of that defeat. “He grew an inch and a half between March and July, I’d never seen a horse grow like that.”
The Dewhurst was too deep too soon, but the run brought him on and a week after Newmarket he was back out winning the Killavullan Stakes.
All this following on from a 201-day break from his maiden victory, his first start coming in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden at Naas on the first day of the season over five furlongs back in March.
And if you think it’s impressive that a Guineas winner could be sharp enough to win a five furlong maiden in the March of his juvenile season, then consider this – Dawn Approach won the same race 14 months before he won his 2000 Guineas as well.
The romanticism of winning the Guineas with another product of the New Approach-Dawn Approach dynasty was not lost on Bolger, even if his first thought was the commercial value at the prospect of another stallion coming off the rank.
“It very much carries on that Dawn Approach line, and I have two half-sisters of Poetic Flare as well. In our case it’s fairly necessary with the way I do things.
“But it means the world. I don’t mind admitting that.”
Bolger is back with a good one. And, given his confidence in Mac Swiney – pencilled in for the Derrinstown or Irish 2000 Guineas before a Derby tilt – the worldly handler from Coolcullen could well have two out of the ordinary colts to go to war with throughout the campaign.
It was a 2000 Guineas to forget for Aidan O’Brien with Van Gogh his best result in eighth, but 13th home Battleground will be worth another chance.
The son of Found looked an absolute picture beforehand so it was no surprise to see him backed into favouritism and he looked to be going smoothly until struggling coming out of the dip where Frankie Dettori went easy on him.
“I was never happy on the track,” was Dettori’s verdict afterwards and O’Brien expanded a little adding: “Battleground hit a ridge and lost his balance after that.”
It wasn’t to be, but his mother got better with age and this good-looking War Front colt has better days ahead of him.
Jessica Harrington was delighted to be vindicated with Lucky Vega who proved he got the mile well with a staying on close-up third.
He took off once he hit the rising ground and might’ve got there in another 50 yards but one thing he won’t be doing next is sprinting even if some bookies cut him for the Commonwealth Cup.
“He is in the Irish 2000 Guineas and the St James’s Palace so they would be the next couple to look at,” Harrington said. “But I also have Cadillac at home, another Lope De Vega, so it’s a nice problem to have!”
A little keen in the early stages, Lucky Vega has got gears but he can clearly channel them positively over this trip, so he looks worth sticking with over a mile for now.
Talking of being keen, I thought Master Of The Seas didn’t settle well enough to win a Guineas but he’s maturing with racing and was a head bob from landing today’s Classic.
The mid-race move he made from the rear was the most eyecatching manoeuvre in the race and the hood has clearly helped him race more efficiently.
He could well be the one to take out of the race going forward and given his new found amenability I wonder if Charlie Appleby will try him over 10 furlongs?
The son of Dubawi is in the Dante at York and while he doesn’t scream Derby horse – he’s not even entered at this stage – he might well be worth a crack over the intermediate trip.
We often see a Guineas horse drop back in trip for the Jersey Stakes over seven furlongs at Royal Ascot and to my eyes Naval Crown is that horse.
Another Appleby-trained son of Dubawi, he took them along towards the stands’ side and was still in there pitching at the business end despite racing with the choke out.
This was a highly-encouraging effort with a view to the future but a slight drop in trip could see him in an even better light next time.
Let’s be honest, there was not an obvious Derby candidate on show at Newmarket.
The best performances came from horses that look milers or 10-furlong horses at best and Van Gogh, second favourite for Epsom before the Guineas, has doubled in price in places for the June Classic following his run in eighth.
However, market confidence in him was low as he drifted out to 20/1 and he ran like he needed it, showing up okay for a long way before fitness told late on.
By American Pharoah, out of the Oaks winner Imagine, he could leave this form well behind when he inevitably steps up in trip in the coming weeks and months.