Pinatubo heads a final field of 15 for the delayed QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on Saturday.
Pinatubo won his six races last year by an aggregate of 24 lengths, signing off with successive Group 1 victories under William Buick in the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes, at the Curragh, and Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket. He was allotted an official rating of 128 in the European Classifications, making him the highest-rated juvenile for a quarter of a century.
The outstanding Godolphin-owned colt is a short-priced favourite to preserve his unbeaten record in the first Classic of the season, which was originally scheduled to take place on May 2 and will be the second race in this year’s QIPCO British Champions Series.
Charlie Appleby, his trainer, can find no chinks in his armour.
“I don’t want to sound too confident but he’s the highest-rated two-year-old for 25 years, looks great, won on all ground and on that [Rowley Mile] track,” he said.
“He’s not a horse that will light you up too much in the mornings but is the ultimate professional, like any sportsman at the top end. He’s got a great mind on him and he knows that when the gates open it’s ‘game on’.”
The Shamardal colt, named after a volcano in the Philippines, is not the biggest but Appleby, seeking a first Guineas triumph, is unperturbed. “We are delighted with the way he has strengthened and I think people will be pleasantly surprised by what they see on Saturday,” the Derby-winning trainer said. “I’d rather much have a neat-sized and balanced horse like he is going into these early Classics. He’s met every challenge that we have asked in his preparation.”
Godolphin will also be represented by Military March, trained by Saeed Bin Suroor and unbeaten in two starts, and Al Suhail. The pair dominated the finish of the Dubai Autumn Stakes over a mile at Newmarket in the race immediately before Pinatubo won the Dewhurst. Appleby trains the latter and said: “He’s an exciting horse and I think he will be a player, but we will see more improvement when he steps up in trip.”
Kenzai Warrior will also go to post with a flawless record, albeit his narrow victories at Salisbury and Newmarket (in the Group 3 Heath Court Hotel Horris Hill Stakes) towards the end of last season for owners Rae and Carol Borras garnered less headlines.
He is officially rated 26lb inferior to Pinatubo but his trainer Roger Teal is undaunted, not least because memories of Tip Two Win’s gallant second to Saxon Warrior for the stable in the 2018 Guineas, when 50/1, remain fresh in his memory.
“I remember driving home on the M11 that day and saying to my wife ‘that’s probably the closest we are ever going to get to winning the Guineas’ but, blow me, two years later here we are going in again, this time with a totally different animal. Tip was a brave little horse with a great turn of foot, whereas this fellow is a big, powerful galloper who loves himself and is quite a character. They are very hard to compare, but both have class.
“We know what we are up against. Pinatubo is the highest-rated two-year-old for ages – even higher than Frankel – and if he’s trained on then he’s going to be mighty hard to beat. I know Andrew Balding is very keen on his horse [Kameko] and, of course, you can never rule out the Aidan O’Brien team. I was hoping they might not be allowed over but if we are going to win it, then we might as well beat the best!”
Teal has been training since 2007 and has about 40 horses in his care this year. He’s never had a bigger team and has been happy with Kenzai Warrior’s preparation.
“He had his final little blow over six furlongs yesterday (Tuesday) morning and went very nicely. It’s not been straightforward and I imagine most horses will benefit for the run, but he seems very well and I’m happy that he is fit enough to do himself justice.
“I feel he will be suited by a step up in trip but hopefully he can run well and then go for the Derby. It’s on our radar but we will get Saturday out of the way first and see what happens.”
Kenzai Warrior, who will be ridden by Jason Watson, champion apprentice in 2018, will be having his first run away from soft ground but Teal believes a sounder surface will not inconvenience him. He said: “After he won the Horris Hill on heavy ground, Jack [Mitchell, his jockey] came back in and said he hated it. They may get a splash of rain at Newmarket this week and, provided there’s no jar, I’ll be happy.”
Aidan O’Brien has already trained a record ten QIPCO 2000 Guineas winners, including the last three. This time he relies on Arizona, New World Tapestry, Royal Dornock and Wichita, with his principal contender appearing to be Arizona, who won last year’s Group 2 Coventry Stakes before later finishing a two-length runner-up to Pinatubo in the Dewhust, when Wichita was third.
“Arizona’s been the horse on everyone’s mind all along and everyone is happy with him,” O’Brien said. “He’s in good form and everything has gone well with him. He’s a big, rangy, scopey horse who we always thought would improve from two to three. He’s by No Nay Never, who is an influence for speed, but he was always coming home well in his races last year and we always through a mile was going to be well within his grasp.”
O’Brien’s previous Guinas winners have been King of Kings (1998), Rock Of Gibraltar (2002), Footstepsinthesand (2005), George Washington (2006), Henrythenavigator (2008), Camelot (2012), Gleneagles (2015), Churchill (2017), Saxon Warrior (2018) and Magna Grecia (2019), with each of them making their seasonal reappearances.
Asked what it takes to win a QIPCO 2000 Guineas, he said: “You have to be a sprinter who is going to stay and handle the contours of Newmarket. It’s a very tough test very early in the season but that’s the way it should be because nowadays horses have to mature early. They have to run at two and be competitive all the way. People don’t want to be waiting on horses to be maturing at four or five anymore.”
The other Group 1 winner in the line-up, in addition to Pinatubo, is Kameko, emphatic winner of the Vertem Futurity at Newcastle in November after a narrow defeat in the Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket.
“Kameko looks magnificent and is a lovely horse to have anything to do with,” trainer Andrew Balding said. “I hope and think he’s best we’ve had here for a good long while. He’s had three or four serious pieces of work since mid-March, albeit at staggered times, and his preparation is as good as it could have been. I couldn’t be happier with him.”
Touching on his Royal Lodge reverse, at the hands of Royal Dornoch, he said: “If we had our time again I would have been a little tougher on him leading into that race and I think Oisin [Murphy] would have sat on him a bit longer. It was a combination of circumstances that didn’t suit the horse.”
Unusually, none of the runners will have had a recent outing this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Balding said: “Everyone is in same boat. We weigh our horses fairly regularly, have the use of a heart monitor and various aids we didn’t have ten years ago to help us gauge fitness. With all those bits of information he’s as ready as we could have him for the first run of the year but only time will tell. When adrenaline is pumping on race day, horses can behave differently.”
Richard Hannon struck with Night Of Thunder in 2014 and this time relies on Mums Tipple, who set pulses racing when the runaway winner of a valuable sales’ race at York in August.
Kinross made a deep impact when winning on his debut at Newmarket in October before finishing fifth behind Kameko in the Vertem Futurity, while Juan Elcano and Persuasion were placed in pattern company last year. Cepheus and Starcat won their sole starts last year and will attempt to emulate Golan, who won the Guineas on only his second start in 2001.
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