Air Force Blue is the shortest priced favourite at 8/11 since Frankel in the Qipco 2000 Guineas (3.45pm Saturday, Newmarket on Channel 4) but does he deserve to be?
Frankel had scored in the Greenham before taking this race five years ago. This will be Air Force Blue’s first outing as a three-year-old and Ballydoyle horses often come on for a run.
Air Force Blue does not come into this race unbeaten either. Buratino got the better of him by two lengths in the Coventry at Royal Ascot. It was Air Force Blue’s second start and he made things difficult for Ryan Moore by pulling hard early on.
Air Force Blue reversed the placings next time out in the Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh two months later. He settled well towards the rear of the field and beat the prominently ridden Buratino over two lengths into third. The second placed horse, his stablemate Washington DC, had also been held up. Air Force Blue settled nicely in his next starts and won them easily. He took the seven furlong Group 1 Vincent O’Brien at the Curragh in September, beating Herald The Dawn three lengths on yielding ground. This son of War Front followed up in the Dewhurst over the same distance, beating Massaat by a similar margin.
Aidan O’Brien (pictured) says his star has wintered well and is coming out with the usual superlatives but we will only know if he merits them after this race. There has been no mention of breathing issues but Air Force Blue will be wearing a tongue tie for the first time. Why? O’Brien does admit that he is likely to be free early on. If that is the case he could be vulnerable so who could be the beneficiary?
An obvious candidate is the impressive winner of the Craven Stakes over course and distance a fortnight ago, Stormy Antarctic (6/1). Trained by Ed Walker, he raced keenly but still got the better of John Gosden’s strongly fancied Foundation by more than three lengths on good to soft ground.
Stormy Antarctic also scored twice as a two-year-old but his best effort was finishing second beaten a head to Johannes Vermeer in the Criterium, a Group 1 at Saint-Cloud. That was on very testing ground. Stormy Antarctic has 10lb to find with the favourite but has the benefit of a run under his belt. If the word ‘soft’ is in the going description he has strong each-way claims at the very least.
This race will be Buratino’s (14/1) seasonal debut but he was spotted putting in an eye-catching display at a racecourse gallop two weeks ago. Trained by Mark Johnston for Godolphin, this son of Exceed And Excel won four of his eight starts as a juvenile. He was last seen in the Juddmonte on this course getting narrowly beaten by Gosden’s top juvenile Shalaa.
Buratino is untried beyond six furlongs but he has always finished his races well. There is hope that he might get further on his dam’s side too as she is by Kingmambo. Buratino has only 7lb to find with the favourite and ought to be thereabouts at the finish if the ground dries out. Johnston can be relied upon to have this colt cherry ripe but he was scratched from the Gimcrack as the ground was deemed too slow.
A colt proven over a mile with give in the ground is Peter Chapple-Hyam’s Racing Post Trophy winner, Marcel (12/1). He was sent off at 33/1 but beat Johannes Vermeer by over a length and had Foundation a further two lengths behind him. Marcel had previously won a seven furlong maiden at the second time of asking. Chapple-Hyam said that he would go straight to this race immediately after the Racing Post win.
Jockey Pat Smullen was delighted with this son of Lawman after a recent racecourse gallop and is hopeful that he will be able to give Air Force Blue a race. If he is fully fit he could do exactly that.
Trainer Owen Burrows took over from Barry Hills and is hopeful rather than confident about his first Classic runner Massaat (10/1) who shares a rating of 116 with Marcel. Owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum, this colt was a three-length runner-up to Air Force Blue in the Dewhurst. As a son of Teofilo he ought to benefit from the extra furlong here.
Burrows has made a decent start to the season and Massaat has proved a relatively easy ride for Paul Hanagan so far. He is unlikely to waste any energy by being too keen.
In contrast Jim Bolger’s Herald The Dawn (33/1) ruined his chances in the Grand Criterium (run over a mile) at Longchamp by pulling too hard but was only beaten three lengths by Andre Fabre’s Ultra. As a son of New Approach he is bred to get further than this but Kevin Manning’s ability to settle a horse does not inspire confidence.
Hugo Palmer’s Galileo Gold (12/1) was only beaten a length in the same race having taken a strong hold early on under Frankie Dettori. In his previous run this son of Paco Boy took the Group 2 Qatar Vintage Stakes at Goodwood, beating Ibn Malik nearly a length over seven furlongs on good to soft. Ibn Malik has franked that form by winning a decent handicap at the Craven meeting.
Galileo Gold cost just €33,000 as a yearling but was bought from Colin Murfitt for considerably more by Al Shaqab Racing after scoring for the second time as a juvenile at Haydock last July. Palmer has made a good start to the season and will be delighted that the going was eased to good to soft on Friday. Galileo Gold is rated a stone lower than the favourite but has much stronger claims than his mark suggests and Dettori can be trusted to give him every assistance.
The Ballydoyle second string, Air Vice Marshal (40/1) is another son of War Front. He started as the favourite in his three runs as a juvenile but, having won his maiden at the second attempt, he was beaten a length by Birchwood in a Group 2. That was on the July course over seven furlongs on good to firm. He looked to be outpaced rather than outstayed and might benefit from the extra furlong and a bit of give in the ground here. Seamie Heffernan takes the ride.
Another beneficiary of conditions could be Richard Fahey’s Ribchester (40/1). He concluded his juvenile season with a win in the six furlong Group 2 Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury on good to soft, beating Log Out Island by just over a length. Ribchester previously finished second in the Gimcrack at York in August having been sent off at 25/1. He was bought by Godolphin just before his win.
Ribchester was sent to Maisons-laffitte for his debut this time. He was beaten five lengths into second in the Group 3 Prix Djebel over seven furlongs on heavy ground. He veered dramatically left whist staying on under James Doyle’s drive and was demoted to fifth. As a son of Iffraaj he should have no problem over this distance. William Buick has the job of keeping him straight.
Our Preview’s 2000 Guineas Betting Tip
Air Force Blue may live up to the hype and give Aidan O’Brien his eighth 2,000 Guineas win but this race is not the foregone conclusion that his price of 8/11 suggests. Ease in the ground will strengthen the chances of the appropriately named Stormy Antarctic but he is unattractive at 6/1.
- Our preview’s 2,000 Guineas betting tip has to be Hugo Palmer’s Galileo Gold who offers superior value each-way at 12/1. Palmer has made an excellent start to the season and conditions look likely to be perfect for this colt. GALILEO GOLD is best priced at 12/1 with Paddy Power, who offer 1/4 the odds on the first three places, or BetVictor.