Since the first running of the 2000 Guineas in 1809, the race has not been eligible for two years olds, but technically speaking, the long time favourite for the race AIR FORCE BLUE, is exactly that. Currently 4/6 for England’s first classic, Air Force Blue enjoyed a largely blemish-free season last year, with his sole defeat coming at the hooves of BURATINO in the Coventry Stakes on just his second start. He then went on to win a trio of Group 1 wins, confirming his superiority on Newmarket’s heath in the Dewhurst Stakes over seven furlongs. As ever, the optimistic vibes and ambitious labels have been bandied around Ballydoyle, but as always, we wait for the horse to do the talking. The ground could yet be one of the obstacles facing Air Force Blue, with significant rainfall having arrived at flat racing’s headquarters in the past 24 hours. This, coupled with the fact his sire War Front is renowned for producing precocious speedsters and not progressive three year olds, has prompted me to look elsewhere in the market.
According to the bookies, next best is Ed Walker’s STORMY ANTARCTIC, who capitalised on somewhat stormy conditions to win the Craven Stakes just over two weeks ago. It is no secret that going into the Guineas without a prep run is doable and perhaps even the fashion these days, but he could still have a fitness edge as the majority of these haven’t yet ran his season. Although he beat ante-post Derby fancy FOUNDATION over the course and distance by 3 ½ lengths, that rival wouldn’t have been seen to best effect. Aidan O’Brien’s SHOGUN filled the third position, and whilst undoubtedly talented, he seemingly did his job in testing the water for his stable mate. Stormy Antarctic is a likeable horse who has progressed encouragingly, but ground conditions may yet dry out with sunshine forecast on Friday morning, and perhaps he needs it to be softer to be winning this. It is also worth noting the last horse to do the Craven and 2000 Guineas double was Haafhd twelve years ago.
Hugo Palmer’s GALILEO GOLD is another to have reportedly shone since his two year old campaign. The son of Paco Boy most notably won the Group 2 Vintage Stakes last year, beating IBN MALIK, who won the Free Handicap impressively after being gelded during the winter. Galileo Gold wasn’t the only horse to find Longchamp’s ground too quick in October, but still managed to finish a promising third in the Jean-Luc Lagardere, indicating there could be much more to come. More is required though, and although he is one of the main protagonists, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him come up short.
MARCEL sprung a 33/1 shock when winning a baffling renewal of the Racing Post Trophy last season, and having cost just 26,000gn as a yearling, he could well be the surprise package once again. He is another who will not mind the ground and will be staying on at the death, which is interesting given his relatively unfashionable pedigree. His trainer Peter Chapple-Hyam won this race with the Robert Sangster-owned Rodrigo De Triano in 1992, but Marcel has not yet shown the quality to match that horse, and my main concern would be the strength of his Group 1 win.
BURATINO showcased his wellbeing with a smart racecourse gallop recently and went down fighting to one of last year’s most talented two year olds in the Middle Park Stakes, when running SHALAA to just half a length in September. He may be the only horse to have ever beaten Air Force Blue, but needs to prove his aptitude for the mile and could well struggle to progress as a three year old, as is often the case with Mark Johnston’s stock.
If winning titles runs in the family, then HERALD THE DAWN would be one to watch out for at a bigger price, as his full brother Dawn Approach claimed this classic back in 2013. Herald The Dawn may have been behind Galileo Gold in the Jean-Luc Lagadere, but he clearly didn’t enjoy conditions that day and showed he has a useful turn of foot when winning the Group 2 Futurity Stakes earlier in the season. He needs to have progressed but I feel 33/1 could look slightly insulting in the aftermath of the race, particularly given the ground he is likely to encounter.
This leaves us with one of the most unexposed horses in the line-up, the Owen Burrows trained MASSAAT. He finished a head behind CYMRIC on debut at Sandown, and that horse went on to finish a short neck second to Ultra in the Jean-Luc Lagadere, a form line which has to be considered crucial when assessing this race. The way in which Barry Hills addressed him prior to the Dewhurst was certainly memorable, and reports are that he has strengthened up over the winter. I think he is a Group 1 horse who will improve for the extra furlong and stronger pace and this race has been the long term plan. It could transpire some of these may have been flattered by their two year old form, whereas Massaat is a different type of animal. He is certainly one for the future and will stay well, with a step up in trip likely in time according to connections.
If you want to take a chance in this year’s 2000 Guineas, my recommendation would be to do so with Massaat. He is much more attractive betting option at 10/1 than Air Force Blue, who has questions to answer in his own right.