Ben Linfoot sets the scene for the QIPCO 1000 Guineas as once-raced maiden winner Santa Barbara bids to land an audacious coup for Ballydoyle maestro Aidan O'Brien.
Sir Michael Stoute’s Golan won the 2000 Guineas on his second start on the back of one maiden victory. Barry Hills’ Ghanaati won the 1000 Guineas on her third start following maiden success, too.
But the feat is a rare one and usually unexpected; Golan was 11/1, Ghanaati was 20s. What they achieved was superb, but if they were fancied by those closest to them that confidence didn’t really filter down to the betting markets.
As for Aidan O’Brien’s Santa Barbara on Sunday, well… this is different. When you come out with comments like ‘she looks like a five-year-old colt’ and ‘she just toys with horses in her work’ you’re going to instigate a Guineas gamble and it has barely showed signs of relenting since the Ballydoyle top dog started barking in early March.
The initial 10/1 at the beginning of that month was long gone by the time Team Ireland had trampled all over the hapless home contingent at the Cheltenham Festival and just when you thought she might settle down at around 4/1 she was cut again.
Backed down to 6/4 at the start of Guineas week, I thought she was sure to drift out at least a bit now. A settled forecast, quick ground, she’s by Camelot – they must go 2/1, said I in my naïve head – but not a bit of it. She hardened again, to 5/4, and you might get 11/8 if you’re lucky.
From a punting point of view it’s a pretty simple conundrum as far as I’m concerned. If you’re not on at massive prices – and by massive I mean anything north of 7/2 – then there’s really no point in going in now.
I couldn’t, anyway. I couldn’t back a 5/4 shot for a Classic on the back of a maiden success, a maiden that hasn’t worked out very well, on the basis of whispers of rapid homework. Imagine if she trails in sixth, how stupid would you feel?
Of course, the reality is these whispers are from Mr Aidan O’Brien of Ballydoyle – he has one or two nice ones to help form his viewpoint – and she’ll probably win, won’t she?
In a way I hope she does. I’m a sucker for a hyped-up Ballydoyle superstar and if she wins in style there will forever be the story of how she burned up the gallops in the spring before landing an almighty ante-post plunge on the first Sunday in May.
You have to have some confidence to take a tilt at a Classic on the back of running in a maiden. Charlie Fellowes laughed at the prospect of pulling such a trick as he talked through Vadream’s own chance in the race on the back of her Fred Darling third.
Stoute did it and Hills did it and, though he hasn’t done it on Guineas weekend in this country, O’Brien does have previous when it comes to audacious Classic tilts with unknown quantities.
He has tried it at Newmarket before. In 2013 he ran Mars in the 2000 Guineas on what was just his second start – his first being the previous July when he won a maiden at Dundalk. Sent off 9/1, he was sixth behind Dawn Approach.
The following day he ran Moth in the 1000 Guineas. She had run three times before – two defeats as a juvenile followed by a maiden success at the Curragh a month before the Guineas – and she ran well in third behind Sky Lantern, also at 9/1.
Three years later O’Brien won a Guineas with a horse that had won a maiden on his last start. The Gurkha was the horse, the Poule d’Essai des Polulains was the race and he was very well-backed – not Santa Barbara proportions – but he did return 4/1 for the French Classic.
And he won by five and a half lengths.
That was five years ago now but last season, unsurprisingly, O’Brien tried the win-a-Classic-with-a-horse-from-maiden-company tactic multiple times. The late start and truncated nature of the campaign meant he wasn’t the only one – but he was the only one that was successful.
Vatican City was one in the Irish 2000 Guineas – he was second.
Tiger Moth, Dawn Patrol and Order Of Australia were three in the Irish Derby – they were second, third and fourth, respectively.
The one that won was Serpentine in the Derby at Epsom. A winner of a Curragh maiden on June 27, he won the Derby just a week later by five and a half lengths, at 25/1.
Perhaps O’Brien has gained confidence from the challenges that 2020 presented. Forced to be bold last season with the above colts, maybe their performances on the back of mammoth rises in class have been a factor in the Santa Barbara plan.
Or maybe she’s just a freak. Whether you’re on at massive prices or not, she makes the 1000 Guineas unmissable as we all wait to see if Santa delivers on what has clearly been extremely exciting homework.
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