Horse Betting: 2000 Guineas
Since October 22, it has been impossible to deliberate the Guineas, or the Derby, without the name Camelot springing to the fore of the mind.
With the first classic of the UK season upon us, the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on May 5, Timeform's Matt Gardner takes a look at the field.
The last 2000 Guineas to be run on a surface softer than good was in 1998 when King of Kings, trained by Aidan O'Brien and ridden by Mick Kinane, defeated Lend a Hand by a length and a quarter on a good-to-soft Rowley mile. However, you have to go all the way back to 1978, and the triumph of Roland Gardens under Frankie Durr, before you find a 2000 Guineas that was run on ground described as 'soft'.
British weather has hardly been kind to racing in recent days with abandonments occurring up and down the country and leaving the possibility of having to preview a race more in-keeping with the Welsh National than a Flat classic. Clearly this could change come Guineas day, but in all likelihood the race will be contested on a fairly slow surface and, whilst this should not blinker your view on the race, it is something that must be taken into consideration.
Since October 22, it has been impossible to deliberate the Guineas, or the Derby, without the name Camelot springing to the fore of the mind. October 22 was the day that the Montjeu colt went some way to confirming all of the hype surrounding him, winning the RP Trophy at Doncaster as if it were a racecourse gallop when easily beating Zip Top, Fencing, Learn and subsequent listed winner Talwar.
Connections clearly have huge expectations of Camelot, backed as if defeat were out of the question when making his racecourse debut at Leopardstown before a similar situation unfolded at Doncaster. Comparisons are easily made with stablemate St Nicholas Abbey, who put up a similarly impressive display at Doncaster before rocketing to the head of both the Guineas and the Derby markets.
Rated 117P with Timeform, Camelot holds compelling claims for Classic success this season but, although he demonstrated plenty of speed on his last start, his pedigree points more towards Epsom than Newmarket, being related to mile-and-a-quarter winner Ideal and French 13.5f scorer Faru, and there really is very little play in his current price of 2.6. He has all the makings of a Classic winner, but in search of a more enthralling bet we are going to look a little further afield.
A sensible place to start is with the recognised trials, the first of which to examine is the Craven won by the Richard Hannon-trained Trumpet Major. The withdrawal of Most Improved left the race looking shallow in terms of previous achievement, although Trumpet Major still improved upon the form he showed last season, when winning the Champagne Stakes and finishing fifth in the Dewhurst. That effort left him top of the Timeform weight-adjusted ratings for the Guineas and, whilst he is clearly a smart performer it seems unlikely that he is capable of taking the extra step forward required to land the Newmarket showpiece.
Whilst on the Dewhurst, the winner of that race, Parish Hall, has to enter the reckoning. The form of that contest was sub-standard when compared with previous renewals, but he was still among the best of last season's juveniles with a second in the Group 2 Futurity Stakes also adorning his CV. He has the physical scope to develop into a better three-year-old, although given that his dam stayed a mile and a half he may be of more interest for the Derby than the mile Guineas.
Power, runner-up in the Dewhurst, was most consistent last season in winning four of his six starts and finishing second in the remaining two. Triumphs in the Group 2 Coventry Stakes and the Group 1 National Stakes, beating Dragon Pulse on the latter occasion, marked him down as a very talented performer. The step up to a mile could well spark further progression, although it is almost certain that the Ballydoyle pecking order has established him second to Camelot.
In similar style to the Craven, Newbury's Greenham lost a key contender in Top Offer, withdrawn due to the testing conditions. With that in mind, and third-placed Bronterre seemingly failing to fire, it is hard to imagine that it was anything other than an ordinary renewal. Caspar Netscher took the Group 3 by a length from Boomerang Bob, landing his third pattern race in the process, and there is no doubt that he is a tough and consistent colt, but he is not certain to be fully effective over a mile and it's debatable as to whether he can find the requisite improvement to make an impact.
Time to shift back to the "hype" horses, starting with the once-raced Top Offer. Trained by Roger Charlton, Top Offer made his debut at Newbury with a tall reputation, duly living up to it as he quickened up in taking fashion to forge away from his rivals. He was not seen for the rest of the season due to a slight setback and it is questionable whether he will be quite ready for the sort of test he'll face, although what is not in question is the potential he has for the season ahead.
Born To Sea was spoken of long before he took to the track, being a half-brother to the top-notch multiple Group 1 winner Sea the Stars, and he overcame greenness to win a listed race at the Curragh on debut. He went on to finish second to Nephrite in the Killavullan Stakes, that effort initially striking as slightly but he was later treated for a muscle tear in his hindquarters. He remains a smart prospect, will certainly stay a mile and will likely appreciate further in time, but it is difficult to really get a handle on just how good he could be.
A race that could be key in evaluating the 2000 Guineas is the Prix Djebel at Maisons-Laffitte, won by French Fifteen. On his final start last year, French Fifteen took the Group 1 Criterium International, beating the likes of Bonfire and Learn, but he didn't need to step forward to win the Prix Jebel. He will be suited by the return to a mile, but of more interest with regards to Newmarket are the horses that finished second and third that day.
Abtaal filled the runner-up spot, and he had easily defeated French Fifteen when they previously met in the Prix Thomas Bryon last October, eased down to win by three lengths. He was not given a hard time in the Prix Djebel, only beaten a neck in the end with his rider not exactly throwing the kitchen sink at him, and his trainer, Jean-Clause Rouget, was of the opinion that he would come on plenty for the run. The suspicion is that he will get the better of French Fifteen at Newmarket, but the third-placed Hermival may get the better of not just that pair, but the entire 2000 Guineas field.
Mikel Delzangles, of 2010 hero Makfi fame, is the trainer of Hermival and it is of the upmost interest that he has campaigned this colt in the same fashion as the aforementioned Guineas winner. Making his debut at Saint-Cloud, Hermival won a newcomers event that contained two next-time-out winners and a pair of horses that went on the finish second on their next starts, running to a rating Timeform rating of 93, 6 lb higher than Makfi achieved when making his own debut. Hermival then went to the Prix Djebel and, although he only managed third and Makfi was triumphant in the race, Hermival ran to exactly the same figure (110). Hermival showed plenty of promise at Maisons-Laffitte, making steady progress, having been held-up, widest of all, again for fairly considerate handling and shaping as if the return to a mile would play be of benefit. The likely faster pace in the Guineas could well suit if he is ridden in a similar style, and it is higly probable that Hermival can progress further with that experience under his belt.
This year's 2000 Guineas could well contain a special talent in Camelot but at the prices he makes little appeal given that there are a number of unexposed performers in opposition and there is the possibility that he will ultimately flourish over further. Born to Sea and Top Offer are clearly open to improvement and it will be fascinating to see how they have progressed over the winter, whilst Trumpet Major is a leading contender on the ratings. However, it is hard to get away from the Prix Djebel form and the first three from that contest make plenty of appeal at the prices on offer. The way in which Mikel Delzangles has campaigned Hermival is compelling and, whilst it may be dangerous drawing direct comparisons with Makfi, Hermival is a lucrative price, currently trading at 36.0, and it is easy to imagine the trophy heading across the Channel to take up residence alongside the one gained two years ago.